The man approached me in a public place. I was alone but at a park where there were lots of people around. Book in hand, I looked for a place to sit and read. Maybe I could find a big old tree or a vacant bench.
The man seemed to be ambling through the park. I say "seemed to be" because I later learned he was trolling, not merely strolling. His physical approach was not outwardly threatening. He approached slowly and openly, face-on, wearing a mask of nonchalance.
He nodded to me in greeting. I nodded back. He said, "hello" and I responded in kind. He asked what I was reading and we began a pleasant but not personal conversation.
Suddenly there was a roar behind me and a shocked look of alarm on the man's face. Before I could fully spin around to see what it was, the two police officers had jumped out of the cruiser they had roared up in. They'd driven right into the park.
The man jumped back, put his hands up in protest and shouted, "I haven't done anything yet!"
Note the word "yet".
The officers addressed him by name and commanded him to get away from me. The man ran away.
The officers came to me and asked if I was okay. I was okay. It was true that the man hadn't done anything criminal to me. .... yet.
A simple exchange of pleasantries, a "hello" and seemingly benign conversation can be a tool by which an offender sets the stage. This is one reason, only one, why so many women won't have a conversation with a man they don't know. And one reason why decent men don't approach women is because decent men don't want women to have to feel this.
How sad, I thought, that so many men and women are denied friendly interactions because the possibility that someone is a predator lurks beneath the surface. The impact of violence and potential violence ripples through the fabric of our society and our psyches. Can we eliminate all predators from our midst? Probably not, but it's in everybody's best interest to try.