Multiple women report being 'followed and harassed' at popular Midlands shopping centers

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Multiple social media posts have been getting attention after several women here in the Midlands claim they were followed and harassed while shopping at places like Walmart and Columbiana Centre.

One woman says just two days ago she and her friends were followed by two men at the mall for at least an hour. It's one of many stories, with similar details, being reported on social media and now to police.

One woman asked that her identity be concealed, but she does want people to know what she says happened at the Walmart on Garners Ferry Road on March 1 around noon.

"A guy – I heard him at the end of the aisle talking on the phone, I'm very aware of my surroundings," she said. "It's time that we step up and we start doing something about this. Is it going to take a woman being snatched or multiple women?"

"I have always been an advocate of if you see something, say something," she said.

She says that guy soon approached her. At first, speaking what she describes as an Arabic-sounding language.

"And then he started speaking French and I picked up on it being French because he said, 'parlez vous Francais,' and then he was speaking in Spanish and then he said, 'habla Espanol,' and I said, 'no."

She says the man refused to speak English.

"Then, I said, 'no, I speak English and I know you do, too, because I just heard you speaking English, with no accent, on the phone. Immediately after he said, 'oh no, no I don't speak English.' I realized he was holding his camera right at his chest and he was clicking and I was like, 'are you taking a picture of me?"

The man eventually walked away, but she says she decided to follow him. His next stop was men's apparel.

"He started taking off his shirt and putting on a new shirt, which really kind of struck me because I'm like, 'is this guy trying to change his appearance?'"

She says she eventually reported the man to several Walmart employees. A manager offered to escort her to her car and she says she was told the police would be contacted.

College freshman Emma Smalley says she experienced something just like that, this week.

"Two days ago, three friends and I went to the Columbiana Mall around 6 p.m.," Smalley said. 

Smalley gives a similar description, only she says there were two men.

"And they had dark hair, dark facial hair," Smalley detailed. "They seemed as if they were of middle eastern descent – not sure, that would be my guess."

Smalley noticed them staring and even pointing but she didn't feel alarmed until she noticed them almost an hour later at the food court.

"They were by the carousel just kind of standing there," Smalley said. "He just was so open about it, like really just didn't even try hiding that he was following us besides the fact that he was looking at perfume and weird things, kind of stalling."

When Smalley and her friends moved on to another store in the mall, she says he was there waiting outside, and eventually came inside the same store. They contacted mall security and were escorted to their car.

Both women say they contacted police, but no reports were filed.

"I just want to make girls in the area aware that this does happen even at, like I said, even at this safe mall," Smalley said. "Everyone thinks of this as a safe mall. In your own backyard. I mean, who knows what this could have been."

The Columbia Police Department says they're taking these reports very seriously and are in contact with mall security. They also offered these tips to shoppers that they should follow to secure their safety.:

  • The most important tip to remember is to call 9-1-1 for emergencies or contact mall/shopping center security immediately.
  • In the City, the is also a non-emergency dispatch number: 252-2911. Citizens can request an officer meet with them.

In Parking Areas

  • Never park in an isolated area.
  • (At night) Park in a well-lit area as close as possible to mall entrances.
  • Make a mental note of where you parked your vehicle.
  • Never leave valuable packages in your vehicle.
  • Store your packages in the trunk of your car.
  • When leaving your vehicle, make sure all doors are locked and windows closed.
  • Have your keys ready when returning to your vehicle.
  • If you have car trouble, remain in your car and use a cell phone to call for assistance, or return to the mall and notify security.

As You Shop

  • Walk confidently and be alert to your surroundings
  • Shop with a partner or friends when possible
  • Don’t burden yourself with too many bags or packages
  • Don’t display large sums of cash
  • Use checks or credit cards whenever possible
  • Carry your handbag or purse close to your body with the clasp or flap toward you.
  • Never leave your purse on a store counter, on the floor in a restroom or in a dressing room.
  • Don’t carry your wallet in your back pocket.
  • Report suspicious persons or situations to mall security. This also includes if patrons feel uncomfortable while shopping.

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