I went to the beach with a friend and I didn’t want to sit in my wet bathing suit bottoms all the way home. There were no changing rooms where we were parked so when we were about to leave I stood next to my car with my towel wrapped around my waist and changed into a pair of shorts. I changed quickly and easily and I don’t see how anyone watching could have thought I’d expose myself in the process. There was a middle-aged guy standing behind my car fishing, with his back to me, and I noticed he was turned around staring at me. I made eye contact with him a few times in the hopes that he would realize his staring wasn’t welcome, but each time he would turn back to his fishing pole until I looked away, and I’d catch him staring again. Before I got into my car I said “hi” to him in a very sarcastic tone. He looked taken aback and said hi and then I left. The incident wasn’t the worst thing to happen to me by a long shot, but it was still irritating. It was like he had to be reminded that I’m a live person and not a paid actor in a porn film. Nothing is going to happen dude. You are not going to see my vag!
I’m an American living in Cameroon, and I have to walk 10 minutes to work everyday. I can do this by crossing a busy traffic circle and risk getting hit, or walking around and passing groups of guys hanging about. At least once each way everyday I get some form of verbal harassment unless I walk with my dad or brother. They yell ‘mon cherie’ or ‘ma belle’, and often openly gape at me in a sexual way. I’m 17, and needless to say this makes me extremely uncomfortable that I can’t even walk to work without being harassed. Sometimes I will just chance the roundabout to avoid them.
A man with a clipboard was blocking women on the sidewalk and demanding that they smile on the sidewalk near the w 4th st station. When I told him to stop harassing women, he started ranting at me. I went into CVS and while I was in there, he came in and tried to scam the cashier into refunding something he hadn’t bought.
BY STEPHANIE E. ARENDT
Senior Prevention Educator
Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault
In just the past two years, the level of awareness and support available for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer-identified youth experiencing bullying and harassment in schools has grown astronomically. There are almost no safeguards, however, for the kinds of harassment they encounter in public spaces on a daily basis. From cat calls to physical threats and hate crimes, public harassment is one of the most endemic forms of gender-based violence, and LGBTQ-identified youth are especially vulnerable by virtue of their perceived or actual gender, sexuality or sexual orientation.
In Tucson, Arizona, Safe Streets AZ has emerged to track and address public harassment, and provide a greater network of support for the LGBTQ community. A program of the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault (SACASA) funded by the Alliance Fund Queer Youth Initiative, Safe Streets AZ provides youth ages 13-23 the opportunity to share their story, get support, and become part of a growing movement to end public and street harassment. Inspired by organizations like Hollaback!, the program combines an interactive Google map and blog to track and share incidences of harassment. Community members can also use the map to locate “Safe Sites”– local businesses and organizations where youth experiencing harassment can go to temporarily feel safe and receive resources.
During conversations with local LGBTQ youth, almost all of the 30 youth that took part had experienced public harassment of some kind. Many said they worry daily about being harassed, and felt that the level of harassment they experience as the result of their perceived gender and sexual orientation is more intense. “You have to take it more seriously if you’re gay,” said one youth. “A lot of the time if someone says they’re going to kill a faggot then they’re probably serious, and you have to treat it that way.”
Despite its prevalence, there is little data on the frequency and impact of public harassment, particularly at the local level. Safe Streets AZ aims to change that. By collecting stories and reports from partner organizations as well as community members, information will be collected and used to hold more perpetrators accountable, and create better systems of support for anyone experiencing harassment.
Visit: www.safestreetsaz.wordpress.com to share your story, get support, and –together—help end harassment.
For more information on the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault, visit www.sacasa.org
My friend and I were walking to get French fries down the street from her house. As we passed a shopping plaza a man in a car stopped and shouted at us “HEY HOES! HEY! HOW MUCH?? 5$?” and kept shouting. She yelled back that we weren’t hoes and I flipped the finger at him and kept going. And this wasn’t the only harassment we dealt with that night either. Walking home two other men in separate cars shouted at us and another stopped his car in front of us as we crossed the street and gestured for us to get in his car. We firmly declined and continued on our way.
Opening up fields of awareness, Part 2
Last week this column talked about the need to become more aware in public, in an effort to avoid being the target of unwelcome interactions with strangers. If we keep in mind that the people around us everyday on public transportation and out on the street could be in any mental state whatsoever, we can more easily pick up signals that something is wrong before we are victimized. But many situations that women in particular face are unavoidable, because the predator has singled us out for one reason: that we are women moving through the world alone. Today we’re going to talk about premeditated violence, in contrast to being “in the wrong place, at the wrong time.” One situation that many Hollaback! readers have experienced is being stalked.
Stalking is defined as “the willful, malicious and repeated following and harassing of another person,” and can occur in public or private spaces, over the phone, or even at work. Today we’re going to isolate our discussion to the kind of stalking that many women experience, which is being stalked by someone who you either don’t know at all, or someone with whom you have only very superficial contact. But first let’s discuss what stalking is, and what it isn’t: stalking is about power and control over the target, and it’s not simply about being fascinated with someone. Think back to a circumstance when either you, or perhaps a friend had been stalked by somebody, male or female, it doesn’t matter ~ you probably felt harassed, and that you were definitely giving the harasser clear signals that you didn’t want that interaction. I can remember being stalked by a security guard in college, and erroneously thinking that I could ignore the unwelcome advances ~ until the night came when that person entered my dorm at around midnight, banged on my door repeatedly, and slipped a picture of a place where that person wanted us to go on vacation together. I remember standing frightened and frozen inside my dorm room, which was locked, thank God, and then going to security the next morning to report the incident. The guard was fired, which I felt badly about, but considering the violation of boundaries involved, I now think it was a good idea. But I digress ~ you too probably have your own stories, and that is just one concrete example of how someone who knows you only in passing can not only get the wrong idea, but can take that idea to the extreme.
As a very young woman, I didn’t really know how to handle it at the time, and “nip it in the bud” so to speak, as I would now. If you have at least a superficial relationship to your harasser, give them a direct and firm rejection, immediately letting them know that no further contact is welcome or even permissible. This is often the safest approach. If they persist in their advances, you can then go to security, human resources, and so on. But what if you are stalked in public, which means that you don’t know your harasser? Many women are followed down the street, while they’re out jogging, or even in the grocery store. This is really the scariest situation, because your harasser is a complete unknown, who conceivably has the power and intention to do you great harm. So how to identify a stalker, and what to do about it: A stalker can look like anybody, but the feeling they give is one of menace, that they are the predator, and you are the prey. You often know when you’re being followed, either just with someone’s eyes, which can be uncomfortable, or if someone is literally going everywhere you are, no matter what your pattern of movement. The best way to determine this is to change direction suddenly, going in the opposite direction, or into different stores if you’re in a shopping district. Usually four to five direction changes would give you an accurate read on the situation.
If you are unable to avoid the person, and they start to catch up to you on foot in a public space, use the power of your voice. Turn around and yell, “I don’t know you! Why are you following me?” Make sure that others are within earshot, and can see that you are in distress. If you call attention to yourself, it will also call attention to the would-be harasser/attacker, which they definitely don’t want. Many victims of stalking would prefer not to have to “make a fuss,” but when someone systematically invades your personal space, you’ve got to assume the worst is yet to come, and get LOUD. If you make a mistake, so what ~ you probably won’t know, because the typical predator reaction is to deny that they were stalking you/harassing you/touching you in the first place. Picture a man’s hands going up in the air, saying, “Hey lady, calm down! Don’t flatter yourself, you crazy b____!” And fortunately it doesn’t happen that often, but wouldn’t you rather be called a crazy b for a moment, so you can get out of the situation safely? I know I would, and as you already know, I’ve already had to make that decision. Many times, standing up for ourselves is not easy at all, which is what a sexual harasser or would/be attacker knows and uses to his advantage. This isn’t a pleasant thought, and I certainly don’t advocate going around paranoid, but as women we’ve got to realize that there are malevolent individuals out that we need to be aware of, and act accordingly for our self-protection.
About 10 years ago (~2001) while I was living in Alexandria, VA, a friend and I decided to hit the Target store. I drove, and after parking we walked through the parking lot towards the store. As we neared the store, a car coming from our right slowed and stopped as we approached it I thought, “how nice, he’s stopping to let us pass in front of him.” How wrong I was. As we stepped in front of his car, I looked over to see the male driver with his penis out, masturbating madly with a huge grin on his face. I was still holding my keys in my hand, and I was so angry I acted without thinking. I jammed my keys into his car hood as we walked past, leaving a huge gouge in the paint all the way across. He didn’t do a thing…didn’t yell, didn’t honk, didn’t say a word, and we continued into a store. I still have fantasies about what I could have done with a can of pepper spray, given that his window was open!
I was groped by a man on a bicycle two days in a row in Astoria. Considering I have lived here for 3 years and have felt very safe, this is really shocking and difficult to comprehend.
The first incident happened on the corner of 43rd Street and 30th Avenue around 3:30 while I was walking to the gym. A man on a bike was riding on the sidewalk towards me. He stopped directly behind me while I was waiting for the light and smacked my butt. I was so shocked that I did nothing as he sped away. No one else on the street seemed to noticed what had happened. I daydreamed all of the obscenities I could shout at this perv if I could go back in time, thinking that that this was a fluke and would never happen again.
Oh no, the very next day I was walking down 46th street around 6:30 pm and a guy on bike sneaked up behind me, whispered “nice ass” and grabbed me. He then sped away. I screamed “Asshole!” but really, does this affect a person like this? I got a better look at him and assume he’s probably the same guy.
I called the local precinct and the cop who I spoke to said that other women in Astoria have complained about this guy, near the locations I was at. He told me I could file a report if I wanted to. I went but a different cop said that it would be a waste of time. “These things happen,” he told me. Thanks buddy, that sure makes me feel safer.
I was loading my car with boxes, moving out of my apartment. While I was bent over trying to stack a box near the front, a young man in a red not-quite-sports car drove by and catcalled. I ignored it. Maybe fifteen minutes later, a guy in his forties was walking by and stopped to comment on my ass. I got out of the back of my car, looking him straight in the eye and said “Your comments aren’t helpful and you’re sexually harassing me. Leave me alone.” He called me a bitch and strutted away. This is not my first time being harassed in my college town of Bowling Green. I’ve gotten stared at and ‘spoken about’ among groups of men just walking down Main street. One time, I was riding home on my bike on the street (it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk), and two young guys nearly ran me off the road in their car and shouted “Get off the road slut!” to me as they drove by. In Cleveland when I was in eighth grade, I was walking home from the bus stop and a group of construction workers- on my home street, just three or four doors down- started catcalling me and asking me where I was going. Now that I’ve got both experience and education on my side, I’m going to the neighbor in the red car (I know who he is, idiot) and leaving a nice note on his car.
I was walking home down Stuyvesant avenue from the A/C train on Utica, it was raining and I was huddling because I had no umbrella. A man came very close to me and whispered that he would “protect me from the rain” and he kept walking. I don’t know what he meant but I felt very uncomfortable and I ducked into a deli to shake the feeling before I continued on home.