BOSTON — Sara Smith, a 19-year-old sophomore at University of Massachusetts Amherst had just transferred to the University’s Boston location. Excited to come to the city, she quickly picked up some necessities for her first apartment and moved in with a friend from her home state of Connecticut, Sherry Johnson.
Smith immediately felt safe and at home, but that soon changed.
The girls made many friends and one especially close to Smith was 22-year-old Jon. One night after she got out of work around midnight, she went home to change her clothes and go visit Jon.
Johnson remembers the night very well. “Sara was asking me where the closest gas station was and I told her where it was. I knew something wasn’t right when she left; I felt like I should have just let her use my car.”
Smith was on her way out and driving to find the gas station Johnson had mentioned. She pulled in, looked around and noticed it must have been closed. A security man in a security vehicle came up to her car and said, “This gas station is closed. What are you looking for?”
Smith was very polite and responded to him with a “Yes sir” or “No sir.” The security officer responded by saying, “Call me Juan*, honey.”
The officer was pushy when talking to her about where she was going and doing and Smith thought he was a real cop. He insisted that he drive home behind her or else he would have to arrest her if she didn’t obey. So she drove back home with Juan following the whole way.
When she arrived in front of her home a few minutes later, she was scared and nervous about what was going on. The officer intimidated her, so she sat in her car hoping he would drive away. Instead, he got out of his car and knocked on her window insisting that she go inside or he will arrest her.
Terrified, Smith walked to her door, with Juan only a few steps behind. “I said to him ‘Okay, this is me. This is my house. Thank you,’ but he didn’t leave.”
What Smith experienced happens to over 20% of the female population at least once in their lifetime; she was molested by someone she thought was a police officer. Molestation is considered the act of subjecting someone to unwanted or improper sexual advances or activity. The two girls were both completely stunned and terrified by what happened that night but luckily, they could lean on one another. “I get very scared coming home, especially when it is dark and I’m alone. I always call someone in the house to come meet me outside and almost run in together,” says Johnson in the aftermath of their experiences.
Another mutual friend is a Suffolk University junior, Katie Sullivan, who was also impacted by what happened to Smith that evening. “It scares me. I felt so bad that it happened to her but I was happy that she was at least able to get away. I know that I am a lot more cautious now everywhere I go; I’m always looking over my shoulder when I’m walking outside and locking all three locks to my apartment door. Before I wondered why there were so many locks and now I couldn’t be happier they were there,” says Sullivan.
This unexpected and frightening experience has taught a group of friends to pull together and be more cautious of their surroundings. Both Smith and Johnson plan to take self-defense classes at the local YMCA over the summer.
*Names have been changed to protect victims and bystanders.