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One of the first times I experienced street harassment around the age of 12. Shouted at as I walked along the road by men in a car.
Sometimes we have to return to the basics. It is important for us to explain exactly what constitutes “Street Harassment” for our new readers as well as consolidating the knowledge of our existing audience. I speak to many people that are aware, vaguely aware, unaware or totally unsure of what is appropriate in public spaces. This is because the perennial problem of street harassment is something we are used to and have come to accept and ignore. So now it’s time to set the record straight.
Street Harassment is any form of behavior, verbal or physical, between strangers in a public space that is unwanted, disrespectful, threatening or violent. The best way to know if this has happened to you is to ask yourself how the abuser/incident has made you feel, if you feel ashamed, angered or forced to stare at the floor, walk faster or dive into a shop – you should not tolerate it and you should definitely Hollaback!
Street Harassment affects everyone, men, women and LGBTQ folk, although statistically it happens to certain groups more frequently than others, not a single individual on the planet is impervious to it. It manifests itself in all manner of ways from wolf whistles to assault. Popular Anti –Street Harassment site Stop Street Harassment has defined the varying types of street harassment:
“It ranges from leers, whistles, honks, kissing noises, and non-sexually explicit evaluative comments, to more insulting and threatening behavior like vulgar gestures, sexually charged comments, flashing, and stalking, to illegal actions like public masturbation, sexual touching, assault, and murder.”
A few months ago I met a man via my husband who asked me “where do you draw the line in street harassment?” It is interesting because I do not believe that he was a pervert or a mean person, just an ignorant product of the “boys will be boys” mentality that trivializes the act of abusing another person on the street. He continued:
“Well what exactly can I say to a woman on the street?”
For this poor chap, my advice was that it was probably best for him to say nothing at all and maybe he should imagine being bound by an imaginary line that forever lies just ahead of him. I could not blame him entirely because we are constantly exposed to images that suggest such behavior is acceptable. There is a scene in “The Hangover” where the characters cruise a cop car down the Vegas strip, using the loud speaker Bradley Cooper’s character informs a woman on the street something to the effect of “you have an awesome rack”, having already accepted the other humorous parts of the movie so it is widely accepted as “harmless fun”. However, I am sure the majority of people out there would not like to have their “rack” or any other part of them referred to by a total stranger on the street.
Regardless of sex, creed, color or choice of outfit everyone has the right to feel safe and confident on the streets without fear of any varying violation of their person or personal space. We have the power to end street harassment and we will. Join the revolution, it’s freakin’ awesome!
Twenty-two-year-old Franca Ogbu has spent the past year in a hospital bed, after falling victim to an acid attack while studying at Federal University of Technology that left her in extreme pain and deeply disfigured. She has undergone 11 surgeries and needs 13 more — meanwhile, the perpetrator of this horrific assault remains out on the streets.
Fellow student Chibuzor Bright Nkire was promptly expelled, along with a group of accomplices, for pouring acid on Franca because she refused to date him. However, nobody has been prosecuted for this vile crime yet.
When we talk about street harassment we usually talk about verbal harassment, groping, public masturbation, assault… but acid attacks? We don’t often talk about them but we should. So we’re starting to, right here, right now. SIGN THIS PETITION! Real justice is living in a world where these things never happen in the first place. But until we get there — let’s at least hold the people that do these things accountable.
The movement to end street harassment takes another giant leap forward today as an additional 11 Hollaback! sites launch internationally, adding to an already vibrant network of 34 sites across four continents. Each site is run by a team of local advocates who are deeply committed to working on-line and off-line to end street harassment in their communities.
“I decided to start a Hollaback! because I wanted to be a part of a collective of dedicated and passionate activists fighting to make the streets safe for women all over the world,” said Hollaback! Palo Alto Founder Viviana Arcia. The organization expected to only launch in five cities this year, but is now in 45 cities across 16 countries, with leaders speaking more than nine different languages — each with the same message: street harassment must be put to a stop. New locations include Bogota, Colombia; Boston, MA; San Luis Obispo, CA; Chennai, India; Dusseldorf, Germany; Minneapolis, MN; Montreal, Quebec; Palo Alto, CA; Portland, ME; Santiago, Chile; and Winnipeg, Canada.
“What we tend to forget is that preventing sexual harassment in the long run is about changing our attitudes, not just ensuring physical safety. This is where we come in with Hollaback!” said Hamsini Ravi, Project Coordinator Hollaback! Chennai.
Local Hollaback! site leaders run their local blogs and organize their communities through advocacy, community partnerships, and direct action. Site leaders are as diverse in their backgrounds as they are in their experiences of harassment. Hollaback! reports that 44% lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer, 26% identify as people of color, 76% are under the age of 30, and 90% are women.
“Women and members of the LGBTQ community have always been taught that street harassment is inevitable and something that we need to accept, smile at, or ignore,” says Cara Courchesne, Director of Hollaback! Portland, Maine. “Hollaback! changes that storyline.”
Hollaback!’s international sites are already having an impact. In Querétaro, Mexico, site leaders have developed a workshop to promote cities free of harassment for all people. In the last two months, 600 young people have taken part. In Baltimore, MD, the site leader has organized several successful events, including an Anti-hate Prom and the Baltimore SlutWalk. In Croatia, site leaders are creating a survey that will allow them to collect data on street harassment that will then be used across the Hollaback! network, giving Hollaback! an ability to compare street harassment across cultures.
I was sitting in a couch studying at Starbucks the other evening. I noticed that there was a man sitting across from me who would stare at me with his mouth open until i looked up from my book and he would look away. I tried to ignore this strange behavior but when I glanced up the next time I noticed he was pleasuring himself through his pants while staring at me. I was horrified and scared. I grabbed my things and asked to talk to the manager of the Starbucks. I told her what was happening and that I didn’t feel safe to stay or to leave for fear that he’d follow me. She asked me to sit down and that she’d deal with it. I sat and a few moments later she brought me a calm tea and advised that I wait until he leaves to leave myself. This is a sadly accurate metaphor for the cultural response to street harassment: chamomile tea and changing your own behavior. I’d rather hollaback!
The other day I was at a local pub with my two best guy friends having a pint and enjoying each others company when this group of 6 guys at a table near by started cat calling me. It was really distracting and hard to simply ignore. They were talking loudly together about what I would be like in bed etc. They were certainly using me to try to provoke my guy friends. My friends could tell that I was upset but didn’t want to start a fight – so we left. I was really upset after not because my friends didn’t fight them but because there was nothing that I could do or say. I was upset because they treated me like an object and I felt like one.
Hi there, I just thought I’d share the following harassment story I recently experienced:
My mom and I live alone together. Our apartment is in the back of the building, so we face the back of another building. My mom was going to get dressed, so she went to draw the blinds and I heard her scream “OH MY GOD!!!!”
“What?” I asked her, pretty blase, since she often freaks out when she encounters pretty innocuous things.
“There’s a guy – in the building next to us – OH MY GOD – he was, you know…” After spluttering and freaking out for another minute or two, I finally got it out of her that she had seen a man masturbating in the next building, right in front of the window, so that anyone could see him.
The experience really disturbed my mom, and it really bothered me, too. While she was glad that she had been subjected to that sight rather than me, I was really mad that she had been exposed to it. The two of us have talked about it a lot and that’s made us feel better, but we haven’t really done anything concrete like reporting him. This is SUCH a frustrating experience!
Thank you for listening, I really appreciate it.
On Friday the BBC published a story documenting the fear felt by some Saudi conservatives and clerics, that allowing women to drive would “end virginity” as well as increase prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce. It is staggering that anyone, let alone more than a small collection of Saudi men, would be the bearers of such a mind-bogglingly, ridiculous misconception.
The report comes after 34-year-old Shaima Jastaniya was sentenced to 10 lashes after being caught committing the abominable crime of driving a sick relative to hospital. Jastaniya was spared following a personal intervention from King Abdullah, who as part of his reform process, has hinted that the ban on women drivers might be under review.
In response and as a means of preventing any reform on the ban, Saudi academic, Kamal Subhi presented a report to the Shura, Saudi’s legislative assembly, detailing the detrimental affects that would result in allowing women to drive. It was in this report that he stated that there would be no virgins left in Saudi if women were able to drive. Other profoundly stupid statements, of which there are many I am sure, included Subhi describing a incident in an unnamed Arab state:
“All the women were looking at me,’ he wrote. ‘One made a gesture that made it clear she was available… this is what happens when women are allowed to drive.”
I am certainly intrigued by the nature of this brazen “gesture” that the women made toward Subhi that made her seem available, could it be an eyebrow twitch, a blink, or something as sexually available as scratching one’s nose? I can certainly think of one particular gesture that I would like to throw is way. I would also like to learn more about the correlation between women drivers and homosexuality/prostitution/divorce/pornography, perhaps women will conspire to produce the “HPDP laser bus”, which will be driven around, brainwashing people with a magic laser. No of course not, how ridiculous.
On a serious note, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a long history of female oppression, Saudi women cannot vote or drive and are unable to leave the country without the approval of a male guardian. Despite this, change is possible and it is in our hands. Sign this petition to help Support Saudi Women, so they can enjoy the same things that we take for granted.
I am a student at UMass Amherst and am now 21. I have been accosted on this street several times. This is pretty shocking considering how open minded, feminist, and family friendly this town is and considering the fact that this is the town center, where the town feels the safest. I have a few stories from the past couple years and thought I would share them in one post rather than a few.
I also want to point out that while some of these stories are about homeless men harassing me, this is not representative of most homeless men and women in this area. I have had friendly and respectful exchanges with people who are homeless in Amherst and the stories following are about the few who, despite their situation, were incredibly disrespectful to me as a woman and made me feel unsafe. This is not due to their circumstances. This is due to their behavior.
The first of these stories is from a few years ago. I was a freshman and on a bus to visit home. We stopped in Amherst Center and a man got on the bus and sat beside me. He smelled pretty terrible, but I didn’t want to be rude so I just breathed through my mouth and tried to be polite. I don’t know if he was homeless or what, but I figured he wasn’t dangerous, that I was safe in the front seat of a bus. He had some food with him (the smell of it wafted to me, it wasn’t my taste) and offered me some. I smiled and politely declined but thanked him for offering. A couple minutes later, I felt his hand snaking its way between my legs and up my thigh. I immediately tensed up and said (pretty loudly) “WHAT are you doing?” He stopped, took his hand back and got off at the next stop.
The second was a year later in my sophomore year. It was on Halloween night and I was on a date with a girl I liked. Some pretty hilarious things happened earlier in the night with guys yelling after me (in a harmless and nonsexual way) since I was dressed as Wonder Woman and running to catch a bus with my cape billowing out behind me. Some cars literally stopped and I heard things like, “GREAT SCOTT! IT’S WONDER WOMAN!” To which I would start laughing hysterically. The girl I was out with was dressed as Catwoman. We were holding hands near the end of the night and walking down the street toward her place. The streets were packed with drunk and happy college students as well as sober and serious (but slightly entertained) police officers keeping things safe. We were hand in hand and I was wary of those around us. Suddenly, a guy ran up beside us and matched our pace.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hi.” my date said.
“What are you girls up to?”
“Just walking” my date said and stared straight ahead.
“I like your costumes. I’m going to a thing in Central. Is that where you live? Central?”
We didn’t respond.
“Well, it’s a party. I mean, it should be fun. Do you two wanna come with me?”
“No thanks,” my date said, “I’m with her.”
“Ok, cool cool. So, what are you two gonna be up to? I’m (forgot the name) by the way. So, what are you two gonna be doing?”
By this point, we were trying to outwalk him.
“Just hanging out.” my date replied, walking faster.
He ran to keep up with us.
“You guys walk fast! So what building are you going to? In Central, right?” he said, losing his breath.
“We walk fast when we’re being bothered by someone and want to lose them.” one of us said (I can’t remember who).
The guy slowed down, saying, “What? but. Oh.”
I think he said something else, I don’t remember, but it freaked us both out a bit.
The third was on the same street. It was about one in the morning. the street was almost empty, it was a weekend, and it was very well lit. I was made-up and walking back from a party for the LGBT group on campus. Three guys walked behind me, about my age. They were talking among themselves, but I immediately became wary of their presence, seeing as there was almost no one else on the street. I was walking quickly with my head up, and did not face them once during the following encounter. I was very clearly trying to keep to myself. One of the guys ran up to me (Not cool to do that to a woman who is walking alone in the middle of the night).
“Hey” he said.
I didn’t reply or look at him. I kept walking and he matched my speed. He tried a few more times to grab my attention. I ignored him some more until he straight up asked me if I was angry.
“Yes.” I replied.
“Why?” he asked.
At this point, I was very nervous about the fact that there was one strange man next to me and two flanking me from behind on an empty street at one in the morning.
“I’m angry because I’m being bothered by someone when I just want to get back to my room.” I said, still not looking at him.
“I didn’t mean to bother you, I just think you’re very attractive and wanted to meet you.” he said in the most friendly tone he could manage.
“Great. I’m flattered, but I just want to walk alone. And frankly, I’m a little creeped out.”
“Because a man I don’t know is bothering me in the middle of the night when I’m walking alone. That’s why.”
“Oh! You don’t have to be nervous with me, I’m an RA, you can trust me.”
“Yeah, ok, just leave me alone. I’m not interested. I’m coming back from an lgbt dance. I’m not into guys. Sorry.”
” Oh yeah, that’s fine. I’m an RA, so I have residents who are gay or trans. I’m totally cool with it. Where are you headed?”
I didn’t respond.
“We’re headed up the hill to my apartment. Are you headed to Puffton?”
I stayed silent and kept walking.
“Sylvan? Do you live in Sylvan? That’s on our way, you know.”
I stayed quiet and walked faster.
“Hey! Where are you goi–”
I interrupted him and yelled, “Leave me the F**K alone.”
He put his hands up and backed off.
He went up the hill that I was supposed to go up. I had to take the long way to avoid him and his friends. Easily the scariest encounter.
The last was during the day. I was walking down the street and saw a man with a can out to collect change. I grabbed some change I had left and dropped it in and smiled at him. Most people in Amherst know or at least recognize the homeless men and women in town, so I wanted to be friendly. He leaned toward me and said something to the effect of, “What would I have to do for a date?” I rolled my eyes, made a grossed out face, said, “Gross” and walked off.
These things happened on North Pleasant Street, which goes through Amherst Center and into the UMass campus. It is normally pretty crowded with college, high school, middle school, and elementary school students as well as several local families. These incidents made me feel incredibly unsafe in this otherwise very friendly and small community. No one stepped in during any of these encounters. I was even driving down this street recently when I stopped at a light and a PVTA bus pulled up next to me. I looked up at the driver, I kind looking grey haired man, and smiled politely. He smirked and winked at me in a surprisingly sleazy way. I made a disgusted expression and he smiled wider, staring at me until the light changed. That still makes me really angry.
This story happened a couple months ago. I was walking home from a friends house in the dark. I live near a busy commercial street in an “artsy” neighborhood. As I got near the end of the street a guy – in his teens or twenties – started shouting at me, “hey baby girl” and “can I get your number” etc. I ignored it because he was on the other side of the street. Then he ran across the street and was walking behind me and I was really scared.
I didn’t know what to do and I saw a girl walk up to the corner, and I decided it didn’t matter who she was I was going to tell her this guy was following me and walk with her. It ended up being a girl that I am acquainted with, she told me to walk with her to the drug store which was out of my way but I followed. The guy was still talking to me and I said “you need to go away” “don’t talk to me” and she told him to leave us alone too.
We went inside the store and when we came out I didn’t see him anymore. I was still nervous so I called my friend and he rode his bike to meet me and walk the rest of the way home with me.
This I was walking around the same corner and in broad daylight a man was standing on his apartment balcony and shouting “hey baby” and I looked over and he was rubbing his penis under his shorts and waving at me. I didn’t even know what to do. I just walked away. I’m so disgusted.