A few weeks ago I got approached on Twitter by Mark asking if he could DM me about a local charity event. I’m a charitable sort and actually work for a local charity so thought why the hell not. He messaged saying:
Hi, I’m raising money for my charity in Liverpool! We are having a Bake Off and looking for someone to come along give support and judge. Would you be interested?
I asked him who the charity was and he told me it was K*** a local children’s charity. I knew them and their work and they are a fantastic organisation. I was intrigued and dare I say it a little flattered that little old me had been asked to judge when we’ve got actual Hollyoaks down the road. Looking at his Twitter account he had contacted a lot of bloggers so I assumed he was hoping for some online promotion. I asked him to email me more details. He didn’t. But he did keep messaging me. It was taking place at the charity on 12 March and teams would be made up of children and families that use the charity. Oh and the judge would get gunged. But not to worry I would be given charity clothing and the opportunity to shower.I wasn’t sure. I stalled him. But he was persistent.
Feb 3: Hello?
Feb 3: Sorry any news?
Feb 4: Hello?
Feb 4: Are you free to chat this afternoon?
I wasn’t overly concerned. I’ve work in fundraising for the last decade, I’ve known supporters like Mark – passionate, enthusiastic, a little too keen. But their heart is in the right place and they just want to raise a bit of cash for their charity. I asked him again to email me more details. He didn’t but again he sent me details over DM. I agreed to take part but the voice at the back of my head was starting to wake-up. Why did he not want to email me? Why did he always want to arrange a time to ‘chat’ over DM?
Then there was silence. No messages. I ignored it. I was regretting saying I’d do it but I felt bad backing out of a charity event. I hoped he would just go away. Two weeks later he messaged again.
Hello! Sorry I’ve been ill so bed bound for a while. Are you still up for this?
The voice at the back of my head was roaring now. Something wasn’t right. In the two weeks that had passed I had Googled the event. Nothing. I had checked on the charity’s website. Nothing. That was weird seeing at it was meant to be taking place at the charity and involving their service users.I kept meaning to check directly with the charity but never did. It played on my mind. Yesterday I finally sent the charity a quick email. Their Chief Exec emailed me back within 20 minutes. They had never heard of ‘Mark’ or the event. It was all made up.
I reported it to the Police and to Twitter. I also decided to post about it on a few blogging Facebook groups. Turns out I wasn’t the only one. People responded saying they’d been approached by the same or similar accounts on Twitter. Bloggers from different parts of the country had been contacted at the same time. And always with a similar message.
Now I don’t know what ‘Mark’s’ endgame was. Maybe he was just a fantasist and I would have just turned up to a locked building. Maybe he was just a pranker who liked wasting bloggers’ time. Or maybe it was something a bit more sinister. Maybe I was being lured. Maybe I was being groomed.
Suddenly I felt very vulnerable. Sat at my desk at work, in broad daylight and surrounded by people I didn’t feel safe. And I’m not. Not always. Not online. Not walking home at night. Not getting a taxi. I realised that I always had this voice of warning in the back of my head. Always. It was there when I was approached by someone in a chatroom at 15 because I sounded ‘sexy’. It was there when I had my drink spiked at 19 and the last thing I remember was my hair being stroked in the chip shop by a man I’d never met. It was there when I woke up the next morning in my bed but with the absolute certainty that anything could have happened to me the night before and I wouldn’t have remembered it. It was there when my friend reassured me she took me to my door. Safe.
And it’s there when I think about my beautiful daughter going out into the world in a few years’ time. Because what if she isn’t as suspicious as me? What if she doesn’t have this voice at the back of her head? What if she isn’t as lucky? Because at the end of the day, it feels like luck plays too much of a part in me being safe. At some point is mine or her luck going to run out?
And the worst thing is, why should I or she worry about it? Why should we hesitate about popping to the shop after dark? Why, just because we’re women?