(reprinted from New York City Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio’s website)
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and the advocacy group Hollaback! today called on the State Legislature to pass a new law protecting straphangers from “subway grinders.” In a letter sent to Speaker Silver and Majority Leader Skelos, they criticized a recent court ruling that effectively downgraded the seriousness of sexual assaults perpetrated on crowded subway trains. A judge recently threw out felony charges against a repeat offender because he did not use force against his victims—even though he used the crowded subways to assault his victims. De Blasio and Hollaback Executive Director Emily May called for new legislation that would allow prosecutors to pursue felony charges and jail time for offenders found guilty of persistent sexual abuse.
Read the full letter below:
September 18, 2012
Honorable Sheldon Silver
Speaker of the NYS Assembly
Legislative Office Building, Room 932
Albany, NY 12248
Honorable Dean G. Skelos
Majority Leader of the NYS Senate
Legislative Office Building, Room 909
Albany, NY 12247
Dear Speaker Silver and Majority Leader Skelos:
We write in support of strengthening laws to protect transit riders from sexual assault. A deeply flawed court ruling has effectively downgraded the seriousness of sexual assaults in our transit system, claiming that perpetrators can only be charged with a felony if they utilize force during the assault. This most recent decision severely undercut recent efforts to hold “subway grinders” accountable and protect New York City straphangers—particularly women and children. We urge you to swiftly pass a new law that would enable prosecutors to bring felony charges against sex offenders who assault their victims on crowded trains and buses.
We firmly believe that jail time is a necessary deterrent and response to persistent sexual abuse. The crimes involved in recent court cases posed a serious risk to the health and safety of New Yorkers. In one case, a sex offender with 32 prior arrests was facing charges for rubbing himself to orgasm on three young women aged 24, 22 and 17. Incredibly, the judge in the case threw out felony charges on the grounds that no threat of violence was present during the assaults. The decision is ignorant of the reality facing millions of straphangers. Mass transit can create a highly precarious environment as a crowded, over-capacity train or bus leaves little possibility for escape. This fact is not lost on sex offenders.
We commend our District Attorneys for aggressively pursuing these cases and pressing for jail time for offenders. It has taken far too long to address the issue of sexual harassment and assault in our transit system. Now that this issue is finally receiving the attention it deserves, we cannot see existing laws undercut. We urge you to swiftly pass legislation to empower prosecutors to pursue charges commensurate with these heinous crimes.
Bill de Blasio
Public Advocate for the City of New York
Executive Director, Hollaback!
Okay so lets say my names lily and when this happened I was 12 ( it really was ) I was in the shop just beside the bus stop so I pick my item and get in line, there is a group of boys older than me in front of me and are messing around saying vulgar things. Then the one closest to me turns around sees me and says to the group, “oh shit there’s a wee girl behind us” , one of them ( the ringleader) says “I don’t give a big fat juicy c*ck” and goes behind me. Then he whispers into my ear ” you’re beautiful, will you go out with me, you’re sexy, I wanna sexify you.” later on I’m still in the line and the same person says,” hey ” and pauses, his friends says lily confirming its my name and the ringleader says,” hey lily hey lily I’m gonna milk you”. Later on the bus my friend tells me I’m gonna milk you means I’m gonna rape you. I was seriously scared. The worst thing is no one helped me.
I was walking home alone, when a random dude told me that my body was looking good. When I said nothing, he told me say thank you. I just said no.
It was really a relatively minor offense, but the fact that he thought I owed him for this comment is so central to the problem of street harassment.
Today I was at a street festival on H Street in Washington, DC. As I was waiting for the bus to go home, I saw an elderly woman walk by, leaning on a cane for support. Suddenly, the guy who had been standing next to me walked up behind her and slapped her on the ass, then darted away into the crowd, pretending like it wasn’t him. I was shocked and disgusted. There was no goal in his action other than harassment and intimidation. She turned around and glared for a while, looking for the culprit, but no one did anything.
I wish so badly that I had yelled at the guy, or pointed him out afterwards, or gone over to the woman and told her how awful that was and shown my support. But I didn’t do anything, other than take a picture of this vile man after he had run away and crossed the street (he is the one in the striped shirt). I was surrounded by strangers, alone in a strange neighborhood. And it’s exactly this sense of making women feel like these are not their streets that is so awful and harmful. It literally affects how we feel every day when we walk down the street, whether victim or bystander. If I ever see something again, I will say something.
I was taking a walk on my lunchbreak when a man in his mid to late 50s inched near me at a crosswalk (I am 25). He was well dressed in business clothes. He asked “would i be annoying if i introduced myself?” I stared at him in shock and he repeated it.
Hey Hollabackers —
I had the honor of keynoting the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence‘s annual conference this week. Over 350 people were there — and the support for our work was overwhelming. I also got a great profile (and superhero photo) in Brooklyn Magazine this week. They listed me as one of the “Brooklyn 20.” All I can say is, WOW. But do you want to know what’s far more impressive than that? Check out what the rest of the HOLLAworld has been up to this week:
Hollaback Brussels is in ELLE magazine this month! As a result of their profile, they are collaborating ELLE Belgique on an upcoming anti-sexism campaign. Hollaback Brussels are also planning an upcoming sidewalk chalking event on October 6th. Their invite says, “We will stop at specific spots and write down strong chalk messages on the pavement, showing Brussels that street harassment, sexism, sexual violence are NOT OK & we do NOT tolerate them! Nor do we tolerate racism & homophobia!”
Hollaback Des Moines partners with a fraternity! Site leader Becca Lee spoke with 30+ members of a local campus fraternity about the importance of being male allies. This was the first all-male audience they’ve had, and they approached us about collaborating and have already raised $131 towards ending street harassment!
Hollaback Baltimore is tabling at two upcoming events! First, the 7th Annual Reservoir Hill Resource Festival. Tons of vendors, music, food and fun. From 11:00am-1:00pm on September 15th at the 2400 block of Linden Avenue, and second, the Punk Arts Activism with Gender Edge Collective. Come see bands, art, speakers and organizations all in support of the gender-queer/transgender community. Be an ally, promote tolerance, and see a good rock show (with drinks!) all at the same time. At Golden West Cafe, 10pm to 2am. You should also check out their recent press: The Evolution of Perspective (Listen here, their interview begins around the 30 minute mark), Indypendent Reader & ESPN Women.
Hollaback NYC holds a workshop for LGBTQ youth at Green Chimneys in the Bronx. This is one of the Hollaback workshop series, which are taking place this fall. The workshop discussed street harassment in details and introduced Hollaback international movement. The participants shared stories and explored different strategies and tips by acting out scenarios for responding to street harassment if they experience it or as witnesses.
Upcoming New York City Events! On September 21st, our big event at Cornell is happening — and Speaker Quinn and Councilmember Ferreras will be there! On September 22nd, join us at Stonewall for RIOT! A drag show and benefit for Hollaback!. On October 23rd I’ve been invited to speak on a panel hosted by the Center Against Domestic Violence. The panel will consist of advocates dedicated to stopping sexual assault, harassment and dating violence on campus. It takes place at the Harvard Club (fancy!) in New York City on October 23rd. You can find details for all these events on Hollaback NYC’s event page, here.
Hollaback Istanbul releases “Canimiz Sokakta” movie by male allies. The movie is a part of the bystander-intervention campaign called “I’ve Got Your Back!” (Arkani kolluyorum!) that is brought to you by Canimiz Sokakta and Green Dot. We chose men to perform in this movie to show that they could be a great force in helping end sexual harassment in public by disapproving of the harassers’ actions. All the stories told were submitted to Hollaback Istanbul. Trigger warning — this one made me cry a little bit — but mostly just because it’s so beautiful. Watch it here:
Lastly, by now many of you have heard about the terrifying incident of a 73-year-old woman who was brutally raped in Central Park this week. Our hearts go out to her and her family during this painful time, and we want to publicly commend her strength.
According to media reports, days prior to the rape the woman witnessed this man publicly masturbating while birdwatching. She took his picture and refused to give it to him. The public narrative, led my the media, has implied that by taking his picture she somehow “asked for it” to happen. We want to express a deep concern for this framing – not only because no woman ever asks to be raped – but also because it implicitly promotes silence as the ideal response. As we all know, silence does not prevent rape. It only works to perpetuate it. Check out my response to this case in The Guardian.
There is no right or wrong way to respond to street harassment. Our research shows that responding to harassment reduces the negative emotional impact of street harassment — but how you respond is your choice. Many people choose to take photographs in self-defense, like this woman. Others choose to start Hollaback sites, share their stories with friends and family, or confront the harasser directly. For details on how you can respond to harassment, click here.
HOLLA and out —
I was just coming home from school with my sister (a long commute from New Brunswick, NJ) and as we were walking up our front steps, two guys on bikes stopped just to leer at us as we walked into our house. I feel like I have to take a shower now just to wash off the feeling of their creepy smiles.
Some things I have learned about myself.
I am not:
An apple, waiting passively for someone to rescue me from the top of a tree.
A side of beef, to be poked at, prodded, jiggled, groped, or spoken about in terms of my juiciness, flavor, or firmness.
A dog, coming at your call.
A toy, to be used whenever and however you want.
A human being. A daughter, a sister, a friend. Someone of worth.
So I damn well better be treated like one.
I was without a lighter and walking with a cigarette in my hand, searching for somebody who was smoking, so they could lend me the fire.
As I passed by a car, a man inside it called me and asked me for my lighter. As I told him that I was also looking for one, he said: “Well, then help me pick up mine in here” as he was holding his dick on his open trouser masturbating.
I kept walking, didn’t say anything. He turned the car on and made the return on the street twice yelling things like “slut” “bitch” and “delicious”. I finally was over me and yelled him to f**k off.
When the days passed by, I could see his car on the street again, until I was alarmed enough to let the police know. I don’t know what they did, but he never came back.
I was walking west along West Grand Avenue, intending to turn left on Brush St to visit my friend’s new apartment. I was hyperaware that I was trying to walk aggressively, with my head up in confidence, to try and deter possible threats. Ahead on the sidewalk were two men, standing near the curb. I elected to not to cross to the other side of the street because at that point, West Grand Ave is six lanes of traffic separated by a median. I was trying to get to my friend’s as efficiently as possible because it was around 7:30pm and I knew it would be dark by eight. As I approached the men, one stepped back towards the building, forcing me to walk between them, or move off the sidewalk into the street. I did not break stride, but in my mind I was thinking, “Oh shit. Oh shit, are these guys going to try and f**k with me?” As I walked between them, the one that had moved towards the building stepped in front of me, grinning. Still not breaking stride, I altered my direction to go around him, and he blocked my path again. I had my head up the entire time, but now I made eye contact with him, thinking, “Are you seriously going to try and f**k with me?” I didn’t necessarily feel afraid at this moment, just incredibly angry that I had to deal with this. I like to think that this was apparent in my glare because the man broke eye contact with me and moved aside. I continued walking without looking back. The other man yelled something out at me, but I did not hear it.
I don’t know if it was my demeanor that made the men let me pass, or if their only intention was just to scare me, but I feel very lucky that I was not mugged/assaulted/groped/raped/kidnapped or any other number of possible outcomes of two men against a much smaller undefended female. I feel very lucky that my fight instinct kicked in instead of my flight instinct, and that I only felt scared by the incident several hours later.