Last Tuesday, Kaitlyn Rafferty was eating lunch with a friend in Rittenhouse Square Park when she saw a man walking toward them, staring.
He asked them about their food and whether they were students, and the women gave short answers and attempted to get back to their conversation.
“Immediately, that’s when things start changing,” Rafferty, 23, of Center City, said. “He’s like, ‘Oh, well I would want to be intimate with you. You guys are so pretty.’”
He moved on to the next bench, where two young women were sitting and became fixated on them, eventually sitting very close to them. They left, and so did Rafferty and her friend.
Turns out it’s not the only time the man has made women uncomfortable or worse. In fact, dozens, or perhaps even hundreds, have been harassed by him in Center City and elsewhere.
Phreedomjawn, a popular local Instagram account operated by Rasheed Ajamu, posted a photo from the man’s Facebook profile Monday evening, along with clips showing him confronting a dog walker and closely following another woman down the street.
It generated more than 1,300 comments, many from women who say they were harassed or assaulted by the man, who is white with red hair, over the last couple weeks.
Metro is not identifying the man, who is named in the social media post, because he has yet to be charged in connection with the recent incidents.
A police spokesperson did not respond to an inquiry about the man, who, according to court records, has a lengthy criminal history that includes stalking, harassment, trespassing and theft.
His Facebook profile indicates he works at a window and door manufacturer in Frankford, but company representatives said he hasn’t been employed there in years.
Rafferty said he appeared to be suffering from mental illness or high on drugs.
The Instagram post alleges that he followed a woman to her house and attacked her and also masturbated in front of other women at Rittenhouse Square.
Those in the comments described a pattern of behavior in which he follows targets, makes lewd comments and lingers around women in parks, violating their personal space.
Some recounted running from him, and at least a couple said they fought him off after he broke into their apartments. A few said they’ve been harassed by him on multiple occasions.
He’s also been spotted in University City and South Philadelphia.
After the post went viral, Jill, who didn’t want her last name published, saw the stories and wanted to create a place where people could share information about the man and others who frequently target women.
In less than 24 hours, her Instagram account, watchoutphilly, garnered 2,000 followers and she was sharing stories submitted by women from around the city.
“I had so many women and people message me about how they thought they were the only one who had an interaction with him,” said Jill, adding she has already facilitated conversations with police.
Jill, who lives in South Philly, said women can choose to submit information anonymously, and she encourages them to share as much as possible — dates, times, descriptions and, if available, photos.
“I just want to create a community where women feel empowered to notify others about these perpetrators,” she said.
Women don’t always dial 911 when confronted by harassment, especially if it’s verbal.
Rafferty said she didn’t last week because, when she’s called police in the past for similar incidents, officers told her they couldn’t do anything unless she had been physically harmed.
She said women tend to develop a sixth sense, and she had an intuition that proved to be correct that day in Rittenhouse Square.
“Being a young female in the city, it’s kind of something you deal with and kind of something you learn to navigate,” Rafferty said.
“It’s part of living in Philadelphia,” she added. “I just won’t go to Rittenhouse for the next two weeks.”