"At first, I didn’t notice that there was someone walking behind me. I finished my phone call, but I was so cold that I barely noticed what was going on around me. Suddenly, I decided that it was too cold to go on. I stopped in my tracks, and turned round to walk home again, calling the dog. I walked straight past someone who’d been behind me before I turned round. As I went on, I heard a noise, so I looked back and saw the same person I’d just passed, who was now also walking the same way as me.
"I carried on walking, and then I heard another noise. I looked back again and the same figure was behind me, but he’d also stopped. At that point, I started to get uneasy. I walked a few more paces and turned round a third time – the figure behind me stopped again. I realised there was something really wrong. I knew he was following me, and I was starting to feel scared.
"My first thought was that he was going to steal my phone. Although I was on a busy footpath, at that particular moment, there was nobody in sight other than this man. To make matters worse, there was no way off the footpath for some distance – I didn’t have anywhere to run to. I shouted, ‘What do you want?’, and he walked right up to me. I could see he was wearing school uniform, so he was a boy, but he was big, and strong-looking. He wasn’t wearing a coat, which was odd, and he had his arms crossed in front of him.
"I still thought he was going to steal my phone, but then he slowly moved his hands away, and exposed himself to me. I didn’t know what to do – my immediate reaction was nervous laughter. At that point I’d been single for a while, and it was the first male anatomy I’d seen for some time. I think I said, ‘You have got to be joking – how old are you?’, and he was so indignant.
"I suddenly realised that I should call the police, and as I fumbled in my pocket for my phone he started to run away. I half wanted to chase after him, because I was really angry by that point. Then I wondered whether calling the police was an overreaction.
"I walked home, still unsure of what to do. I started to worry about what he might go on to do – he could hurt someone – so I called the non-emergency police number. The police were amazing – within twenty four hours of my call, I had an interview with a CID officer. I still thought that what had happened wasn’t very serious because I hadn’t been hurt, but they took it completely seriously.
"I’m a strong, independent woman, and I was really shocked at how I went to pieces afterwards. The thing that really bothered me was that he’d been following me, and I’d changed the circumstances by turning around. Before that, I’d been heading towards an underpass, and I was tormented with thoughts of what might have happened if I hadn’t changed direction. What were his intentions? Would he have raped me?
"About a week later, my designated CID officer took me to the local school to see if I could identify the boy. By this time I was feeling terrible. I felt a huge responsibility to identify him because I was really worried about what he might do to someone else, or what he might have done previously. We didn’t spot the boy at the school, but afterwards we walked around town, and I saw him standing on his own. I had been concerned that I wouldn’t recognise him, but when I spotted him I knew without a shadow of doubt who he was.
"The boy was interviewed, and immediately admitted what he’d done, but I still had lots of questions I needed answers to. I felt I really needed closure, because everything was done on his terms, and I never really had a say.
"Two or three months later, I got a letter out of the blue from Jodie, a restorative justice facilitator. It was a really nice, personal letter giving me some information about restorative justice and asking whether I’d be interested in talking further about it. I contacted Jodie, who came to meet me.
"In everything that had happened, none of it had been about my emotional reaction. The police were amazing, but it’s their job to deal in facts, not feelings. Jodie listened – many times – to how I felt, and what I’d gone through emotionally. For the first time, I was given a voice and a chance to make decisions. I knew that restorative justice was the way forward.
"I wanted to ask the boy what his intentions had been, and I also wanted him to hear what he’d done to me. I still get very anxious whenever someone’s walking behind me. Even if it’s a woman, I have to stop and let them walk past me. I’m always checking over my shoulder.
"When I found out that he didn’t want to meet me, I was furious – it felt like he had power and control over me all over again. But Jodie was fantastic, and she suggested video recordings as an alternative. It was imperative to me that that boy listened to what I had to say, and how that happened wasn’t really important.
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