I have experienced street harassment. Last year, I walked past an Italian restaurant in Watertown, near Boston, when two men hollered at me from the patio. These men looked about 75 years old, and I was 16 when this happened. They told me, “Hey girl! Come over here!” I know that doesn’t sound like much, but I really felt offended. I hadn’t approached them or talked to them or anything, and yet it seemed that they saw a young woman and thought I must be a good target. I was worried about what they would do. There were no witnesses, so all I could do was run away. Thankfully, I haven’t seen them since. But the memory continues to haunt me.
A man rushed up behind me on the car park escalator and ejaculated all over the back of my dress then disappeared . I wandered the streets in shock.
Two weeks later a woman was abducted from the same location and driven to bush land raped multiple times then her throat was slit and she was left to die. She is still alive today.
I regret not reporting my incident as it may have prevented what happened to this woman.
My best friend and I were staying in Surfer’s Paradise in Feb 2012 and we were walking to our hotel room around 1:30am and this weird guy roughly 35 came up and said he just arrived here and wanted to know the best night club. He constantly tried to get us in his car. Was very scary. Be aware.
This post, by Nicola Briggs, is part of a series of posts that we call Nicola’s Got Nerve. You may remember Nicola from this incident caught on camera which was viewed by more than 1.5 million people and which sparked outrage from all corners of the globe, bringing street harassment to the forefront of women’s rights issues. We admire’s Nicola’s ability to turn a traumatic event into focused action through writing and activism, and we think you will too.
Let’s consider this word in all its power for a moment, not only by looking at the first Merriam-Webster definition, “exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse,” but by another entry, which terms it as an “intense, turbulent, or furious and often destructive action or force.” The first one underscores the physicality of the act, but the second one gets to the heart of both definitions, with the word destructive. I think most people wouldn’t hesitate to agree that sexually abusing another person is a deeply abusive and destructive act; but if this is really the consensus of our society, why then the confusion in the court system today?
Recently, the New York State Court of Appeals dealt a real victory to what law enforcement terms, “subway grinders,” by allowing another abuser, Jason Mack, to get off almost scott-free for his masturbating against a 14-year-old girl on a packed subway car in 2002. The Court of Appeals ruled that the perpetrator could not be charged with a felony as the action itself wasn’t deemed “violent.” Because the amount of physical pressure applied to another person’s body during a sexually abusive act like rubbing or fondling is “soft,” or “gentle,” does that mean that it isn’t a violent act? This justification is incredible, especially to anyone who has ever been the target of such abusive behavior. In fact, what Mack and others like him have done can actually be considered violent on more than one level: Physically: Doing this to someone on a crowded train, bus, etc. without another’s consent makes the action possible in the first place, especially if one cannot move away from the abuser. Emotionally: Whether the victim knows what is happening at the moment of the abuse, or when she sees her stained clothing in the aftermath. And finally, spiritually: Most targets of sexual violence do not feel comfortable coming forward and speaking about the experience, either to law enforcement or even their own families. Doing so can bring stigma and shame which in many instances, a woman or girl can carry with her the rest of her life, with serious effects to her self-esteem. To argue against any of these known facts is to turn away from the victim’s experience without empathy.
By international human rights standards, violence against women not only comprises obvious behaviors such as battering, but also includes acts of sexual abuse, whether perpetrated behind closed doors or inflicted out on the street. Why then, at the state level, are we once again parsing words? We, as a culture, continue to dance around the fact that sexual abuse, in the forms of street harassment, and most virulently, unwanted sexual contact with another individual, is at the core a deeply rage-filled, anti-social act designed either consciously or unconsciously to strip the target of dignity, power, and worth as another human being. To use someone like an object, in an abusive manner, is the very portrait of violence. And I believe that to ignore the fact that the vast majority of offenders are men, and that the victims of these crimes are women, points out the glaring sex bias in the court system. If the Court of Appeals has effectively taken the teeth out of prosecuting a sex abuser, what hope does society have to send a message to avert these traumatic situations in the future?
Violence. We, as Americans, have got to expand our understanding of this word to encompass the full definition of it, if we want to truly say that our great, shining society does not, in fact, condone violence against women.
The world is watching.
I was sweaty and gross walking to my car from the gym when a truck with two men in it drove behind me. One of them whistled. I was already in a bad mood and my blood was pumping from my workout. I turned around and flipped off the truck. This, predictably, elicited a, “Yeah, sure! Right now?” from one of the men. They were on their way to the Home Depot nearby, so I got into my car and followed them. As they were walking in, I rolled down my window and yelled at them, “It is not ok to speak to people like that! It is inappropriate, it is NOT OK!” One apologized, the other said, “Yeah it is.” I drove off.
I was at Walgreens when two men in the aisle made a comment about the size of my “buns” as I walked away. They also called, “Hey sexy,” at me as they saw me drive out of the parking lot. I felt disgusted and completely humiliated.
I was walking on a crowded street in midtown Manhattan when a man blocked my path. He said, “how you doin’, gorgeous?” I responded, “that’s street harassment! You should be ashamed of yourself” and then walked away without giving him a chance to engage further. Hollaback has taught me that I should call street harassment what it is since many people don’t realize that what they are doing is perpetrating violence against women.
Sharing Hollaback’s! mission and encouraging the Save Club (Student Againts Violent Experiences) at Lompoc High School to be active bystanders in their school and community.
A year or so ago my friend and I were walking to her house late at night (we were both fifteen then, btw), when a car slows down behind us and begins to slowly follow us at the same pace we were walking, a couple of yards back. The guy looked pretty normal, in his early fifties/late forties maybe. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, we stopped walking for a second to see if he’d drive by us. Instead, he stops his car and just sits there staring, so we immediately started walking again, but much faster, and he started driving behind us again. He was the only car on the road given the time at night, and we were walking on this street that runs over a highway, so we couldn’t turn or run to any houses until we got off the bridge, and to make everything even worse, the battery of her cell phone was dead. We didn’t want to start running because then he’d just follow us in the car, and there’s no way we’d outrun a car, though we both agreed if he got out we’d book it and start screaming. There was still some space in between the car and us and we were both walking so fast we were practically running anyways. I have my knife out, open, with the sleeve of my sweater sort of covering it just in case. We got off the bridge, and he kept following us. He didn’t say anything to us, but every time we looked back (which was like every two seconds) he was staring right at us. Finally, after about ten or so minutes of walk-running, my friend put her phone to her ear and really loudly pretended to be calling the police, telling the battery-dead phone where we were, and that there was a car following us, and then when she started reading off the license plate, he sped off. The second he got out of sight we ran the rest of the way to her house. We didn’t call the police (her parents didn’t know we’d been out, and we had to sneak back in). I don’t even want to think about what might have happened had it just been one of us, or if he pulled a gun. The whole thing still pisses me off- it wasn’t like he was harassing us verbally, he was just following us, two teenage girls, in the middle of the night, in his car. I kind of wish we had called the police, because that guy was obviously planning something or just some sicko creep who gets his kicks scaring the shit out of teenage girls.
I was groped on the bus today.