It first started at the end of last year.
My 19-year-old neighbour would hear me in my garden and would always head out into his to strike up a conversation. I thought it was friendly but then I made the mistake of giving him a hug after he asked for one, and he squeezed my bum, laughing as he did so.
I jumped back, telling him that it was not okay and that I’d never cuddle him again. I felt like he’d betrayed my trust – he’d asked for the hug as if he were a child, desperate for affection, and I’d felt sorry for him.
From then on, I knew I needed to draw a line. A month later, he knocked on my front door when I was home alone, having dinner in the living room.
My housemates and I have no peep hole to look through, so I opened the door to see who it was and immediately regretted it. He stumbled into my home, placing his drunk foot over the threshold, invading my privacy.
He was clutching a glass of whiskey and asked if he could join me. I made it clear that I wasn’t interested in him, said I had a boyfriend and that I didn’t want his company, even as friends.
He took a step back and I managed to close the door in front of me before he had the chance to reply. That night was the first time I felt unsafe in my own home.
Months passed and I saw him as little as I could – but the harassment continued.
As I came home from a weekend away, he saw me returning through his window and rushed out to read me one of his poems. Being a supportive and positive person, I wanted to encourage him to follow his passions and turn his attention to something else, other than me.
I told him the poem was excellent and that he should join communities and networks for poetry and spoken word. In hindsight, I was creating a sense of hope and opportunity through me, and he soon began to latch on to this.
When coronavirus swarmed the city and London was forced into lockdown, his erratic behaviour intensified. It was like pouring fuel on an already burning fire.
I couldn’t sit in my garden without him giving me compliments, making sexual jokes or standing by our fence trying to chat. I told him that he made me feel uncomfortable, that I was just his neighbour and wanted to enjoy the privacy of my garden. At first he acknowledged this, nodding and sulking before going back inside.
But then he came out another three times, standing by the fence and waiting for me to change my mind.
My housemates were concerned about his behaviour and my parents insisted I tell the police about it, but I didn’t, as I thought it might make the situation worse and I didn’t want to risk that. I also felt sorry for him as I could see that he craved affection and had become obsessed with the first person who was kind to him.
I was scared that he would attack me when I had my headphones in, so I began to do workouts inside
But, exhausted by his behaviour, I couldn’t handle it anymore. In an effort to pass on the baton of dependence, I wrote him a letter of all the charities, organisations and groups he could speak to, such as Samaritans, Mind and local churches in the area.
He took the letter glumly and I went inside my house, shaking with nerves but proud of myself for making it clear that I wasn’t the one he should turn to. I stopped being concerned for his welfare and I started prioritising my own.
It became apparent that this act had fallen on deaf ears. Later in lockdown, as I returned home from a run, I saw him standing by my door. He acted casual, saying he had left his house at the same time as me and just happened to be coming back from the shop as I returned.
I don’t know what was more terrifying – him watching me leave and timing how long I would be, or being at my door waiting for me.
I was scared that he would attack me when I had my headphones in, so I began to do workouts inside. I tried to convince myself it was a joke, as laughing about it was the only way I could process how I felt in my own home – trapped.
I finally cracked when he knocked on my front door late at night, soon after. He pretended to be the police and I opened the living room curtains to see him standing there, grinning. I didn’t open the door and told him I wouldn’t be doing so.
Through the shut door, he said ‘I just want to see you’, as if he was enacting a scene from Romeo and Juliet. But it wasn’t romantic or affectionate, it was downright creepy and distressing.
I threatened to call the authorities and he walked away. I went back into the kitchen, rejoining my housemate.
He harassed me on and off for five months but I haven’t heard from him since then.
I am moving to a new house this weekend and, yes, having him as a neighbour is a factor in this decision. I didn’t want to stay in a place where I felt apprehensive about using my own garden, where I had to choose a different route to avoid going past his front door and even locked my own bedroom door at night, out of fear.
According to Stop Street Harassment, three out of four women have been verbally harassed on the street. But what if your harassment is inescapable?
No one deserves to have their privacy continuously disturbed by someone who struggles to accept ‘no’ as an answer. Moving to a new house is too great a length to take, but a necessary one in my case.
If you feel harassed, keep a diary of the incidents, recording the times and the events that happen, and take it to the police.
Don’t make the mistake I did by not reporting it and feeling sorry for the person harassing you, as their issues are not your problem. At times I wonder whether, if I had cracked earlier, would I have been able to get on with my own life sooner? Or what if he had taken my threat the wrong way? I dread to think what could have happened.
The experience has made me recognise how important it is to lay boundaries down, with whatever role someone has in your life.
I am happy I am moving to a new place and will get a fresh start.
And yes, I did check what the neighbours are like.