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Dear Hollaback! Readers,
My name is Nicola Briggs, and many of you may have heard of me from this website. In late November of 2010, a video of me confronting a sexual predator on the subway was posted on YouTube, and Hollaback! published this video, which has now been seen by well over one million people. This recording, made by an anonymous bystander, was of a very intense and difficult moment for me. I had just realized that a man standing behind me had been trying to rub himself against me, and when I turned around, I saw that he was completely exposed, wearing a condom. At first, I thought I was seeing things, it was so surreal. “Could this stranger really be standing in front of me like that? This can’t be happening to me…” Then the creep tried to cover himself up with his messenger bag, but I needed to make sure I wasn’t going bonkers ~ so I grabbed the strap of his bag, and yanked it away from his body, and there it was again, in all it’s little glory.
When the perpetrator saw the expression on my face, he knew it was on, and hastily mumbled “I’m sorry.” But his sociopathic reaction, which showed no understanding whatsoever of the gravity of his actions, was the final catalyst for me to respond in the way I did. As many of you saw from the video, I announced to the entire subway car what he’d been doing, and let him know that he wouldn’t get away with it, and was going to prison. (Insert numerous expletives.) I also enlisted the support of other passengers to help me detain him, and shame him, all of us taking pictures with our cell phones. Upon exiting the train, the perpetrator was immediately arrested by transit police. He was then convicted, is now a registered sex offender for life, and was also deported at the end of his all-too-brief prison term.
Oh yes, oh fucking yes.
It’s about time that we show the sexual predators of the world that we will not accept “business as usual” anymore, and that we refuse to sit in silence and pain any longer, as we are victimized just because of our sex. When a woman is faced with someone trying to violate her personal boundaries, it is completely appropriate that she raise her voice and GET LOUD. In fact, her physical, psychological, and spiritual survival depend upon it. I’m writing you now to encourage you on that path ~ and to let you know that I’d like to share alternative ways of successfully defending yourself, if and when the need arises. I’ll be writing a weekly column, called Nicola’s Got Nerve, which will be a frank discussion of street harassment, dominance, awareness, and methods of self-defense for women in public. It will be a supportive forum where you can ask me questions, and where I will address your concerns about traveling through the city in safety and with confidence. My years as a Tai Chi instructor, and the fact that I’m only 5’ tall (and won’t take crap from anybody!) have prepared me well for this moment in my life. I hope to share with you what I’ve learned on my own journey, to make yours easier, and look forward to getting to know you!
Peace and Balance,
To submit a question to Nicola for next Monday’s post, please email it to her here.
On Thursday, I had planned to go to a cheap taco place, go meet up with friends for dessert at Junior’s, and have an enjoyable day.
This group of teens has said things to me on and off in my area for a year and a half. I’ve tried everything – calling 311, calling the local precinct, attempting to reason with the ringleader after separating him from his friend, calling the local precinct, videotaping an incident, and calling the precinct a third time.
When I saw a group of young men out, I put my point and shoot in video mode and turned it on in my bag. When one of them yelled to me, I pulled the camera out and got a shot at their faces. They taunted me more, and I was set to walk away and bring my videos to the precinct the next day, though lord knows bringing anything sexual to the police is a gamble. One of them pulled down his pants and showed me his (surprisingly hairless) ass, to which I yelled without thinking “OH HELL NO, I’M FROM BROOKLYN, YOU BETTER KILL ME OR LEAVE ME ALONE.” One of them threw his cigarette at me, and said, “You better leave before we decide to kill you.”
I called 911 this time, and the officers tried to be nice, but they were too slow to respond, and the butt-flasher and cigarette-thrower had gone. Their friend got a summons for being aggressive and spitting, but that doesn’t exactly help.
Jesus fucking Christ, I just wanted a taco. Whenever a man on the street says something too vile or personal to ignore, I get this intense adrenaline rush that would probably enable me to pick a car up off my foot. It’s really uncomfortable – my heart starts beating so fast, I shake slightly, and I’m just so angry I can’t think straight. How dare someone say that to me, treat me like I’m public property because I’m a woman, and truly believe they are entitled to my time, my response, their satisfaction. I shouldn’t need to feel prepared to die to run errands in my neighborhood in broad daylight. I’d rather die than live in fear, but I wish I didn’t even have to think that way.
I know I didn’t handle this in the best way possible, but it isn’t my job to respond well to groups of men who intimidate me – I didn’t choose to be their target. They were wrong to target me.
Everyone I told this story to has said I’m so brave, but I couldn’t leave the house on Friday because I felt so fatigued after all of that adrenaline the day before. I went out with my boyfriend on Saturday, but I’m having a panic attack over the thought of going outside alone today, even if I avoid the area. If it’s not these guys, it will be others, and if it’s not today, it will be this week. I’m afraid of what I’ll have to do next time, especially if the police respond so slowly. I’m afraid of dealing with being treated like public property for the rest of my life, no matter how I carry myself or respond. I’m afraid of what I’ll have to do next time to survive, and what that’s going to do to me.
A friend of mine and I decided to grab some McDonalds after a part at approximately 3am in the morning. It was a place that was nearby and was convenient for both of us to get home.
We cruised on in and ordered our meals. We were soon approached by a man who said that we had to meet his friends. We obliged because he asked nicely and we’re the adventurous, outgoing sort. We met his friends/family, and chatted while we waited for our meal.
Once we had our food we sat down kind of near them because of the size of the restaurant, but indicated no interest. For a majority of our meal we enjoyed solitude recanting our individual evenings.
About 3/4 of the way through my big mac one of the guys walks over and starts talking us up, soon after his cousin comes up afterwards and joins in. Both of them are nice enough, so we don’t mind chatting a bit as we end our post festivity meal. But as we near the end they ask us out, ask us what we’re up to, and for our numbers.
We tell them we are done for the evening, have to be up early, and don’t wish to give our number out.
The first guy that approached us walked away and said, “Fuck those fat bitches.”
And I was not having it.
I followed him to his table and confronted him, asking what he’d said. His friend tried to ‘calm me down’ but I told them that I was well within my rights to cause a scene. Quickly the whole McDonalds was cheering me on as I told him that I had no responsibility or obligation to give him my number. That I had been nothing but a lady, and had acted with only respect until he decided that he was too good for basic respect.
All the while he was giving me the finger.
I kept going, and I asked the crowd that was watching. ‘Am I a fat bitch?’ and they said, ‘HELL NO!’ I told him that I was a woman, and a lady. That I had acted with respect, and it would have been my preference to walk out that door without this nonsense. But I was not the kind of person to take that kind of disrespect, and that he had a thing or two to learn about women of substance.
Last year I moved to Granville Island in Vancouver to go to school at the nearby art university. Close to my house there’s a convenience store and a Starbucks, near the intersection where the big neon “Granville Island” sign is.
On nights when I had a lot of studying to do I would go to the convenience store and pick up snacks, but the male clerk always seemed overly friendly and creeped me out a little. He would often probe too much into my life, asking me where I lived, how I was, what I was doing later… sounds friendly, but it wasn’t. Also, every time I came in he would ask me if I was old enough to drink, if I liked drinking, and if I had girlfriends that I drank with.
Finally after enough times going there, he worked up enough nerve to “ask me out”, if you can call it that. In the span of about 45 seconds he shot a bunch of questions at me rapid-fire; he asked me if he could take me shopping, buy me clothes, take me to the beach, take me to a movie, take me back to his house or buy me liquor. It was clear that he thought I was underage and that getting a boot for alcohol would not only pique my interest, but would make it easier for him to potentially date rape me. This man was probably around 30 – I’m 19 but look about 15. I’d also like to note that I never bothered to wear makeup when I went to that convenience store, and I usually wore my boyfriend’s baggy hoodies since it was cold and I didn’t plan on being out long – I mention this because some people seem to believe that harassment is based on looks. It’s not.
Anyway, I never went back there again. Luckily there’s another convenience store close by that’s run by a very sweet middle-aged man, but his store doesn’t stock toiletries like shampoo and deodorant, so when I need those things I now need to make a half hour walk to the drug store (instead of the five minute walk I used to make to the Island Market convenience store).
I don’t have a picture or the name of this man, but he was in his thirties, somewhat short, and had a pock-marked face. He works at the market all week round. I’m including a picture of the place I grabbed off Google street viewer – none of the people visible in the photo are the harasser. NOTE: This is not in the Granville Island Farmer’s Market. It is a separate convenience store simply named “Island Market”.
This story happened quite some time ago, but when I think of stories apropos to Hollaback, it is these that jump out at me:
Three summers ago, I was living in Brooklyn with my boyfriend at the time. I am from a fairly small town; I’d certainly encountered my fair share of street harassment there, but nothing compared to the huge volume I encountered every day in NY during my commute to work. I would complain about it to my boyfriend and he would brush it aside with comments like, “well, you’re hot, baby,” and, “that’s just the city.” One day, on the way to work, a man I walked past growled, “I would ride that.” I told my boyfriend about it, and he turned it around later that day and used it as a joke, yelling it to me out the window of a car when his friend picked him up.
That same friend of his and I got into an argument another day about street harassment. He said that the catcalls, etc. were compliments and I shouldn’t feel threatened or stereotyped. “Being hot is not a BAD stereotype,” he informed me. “I’m Puerto Rican, and if someone yelled at me, ‘hey, you must play really great baseball,’ I would say, ‘thank you, yes I do.'” My boyfriend thought this was hilarious.
I should note that the boyfriend was NOT an asshole or a bad boyfriend or in any way abusive to me or disrespectful of me otherwise. He was and still is a caring kind and smart person who I genuinely respect. I would say the same of his friend. But they could not understand the feeling of violation that came with street harassment, and in not understanding, they invalidated the anger and fright and disgust I felt on a DAILY BASIS. To them, that was simply New York, and it was a part of the city that came along with all the rest of it. And who, after all, was I to try and question the norms of a city that wasn’t my own? I just had to learn, like all the rest of the women there, to deal with it.
I did learn to deal with it. The sexual slurs rolled off me like water by the end of my summer there. Or so I told myself. But then came one morning in August, by which point I felt myself much better suited to the city (I could not only navigate the trains, I could give directions). I was headed to work at about 7 AM, walking to the F train on Second Ave. The LES in the mornings is a very different place than the LES at night; rather than loud pretty twenty-somethings, the streets are filled only with the homeless who slept there the night before. I was walking past many groups of homeless men and was otherwise entirely alone on the street. Then I saw one homeless guy lumbering towards me. Here we go, I thought, preparing myself for an unpleasant encounter, kicking myself for never having bought the pepper spray I’d promised my mom I’d get back in June. The man got to about a foot in front of me, raised his head, looked me right in the face, and said, “Well at least somebody’s beautiful this morning, and it sure ain’t me!” He laughed, and I laughed from relief, and he went on his way, wishing me a nice day. I laughed at myself the whole day, thinking how paranoid I’d been and how prejudiced it was for me to assume that a homeless guy was inevitably going to harass me. The thing this made me realize, though, is that my prejudice was borne of a larger fear. The silence around street harassment DOES contribute to prejudice, and it contributes, too, to an overall feeling of worry, shame, and fear that had me walking to work in a paranoid state. And though the man did comment on my appearance, I was GRATEFUL for it because I had been so sure that what was coming would be explicit or a threat.
Looking back on this time now, I realize I was deeply misinformed and unsure in regard to street harassment. I am moving back to New York in a couple of months, and thanks in part to Hollaback, I am doing so with more confidence and feelings of empowerment than I otherwise may have. Had I known about this site three years ago, that summer could have been more golden than it was.
I’m only fifteen but these kinds of things happen to me and my friends all the time, from older men and from boys our age. Last summer I remember walking to the beach with my friend, we were both wearing shorts and t-shirt and bikini’s, and a car full of boys, at least in their twenties were screaming at us as they drove past, and they drove past more than once. I mean, we should be allowed to wear summer clothes without feeling we’re asking for it! We don’t get a lot of nice weather here so when we do, we should feel alright to wear whatever we want without people harrassing us.
Another night, we were standing outside a video stop when a car pulled into the parking lot, rolled down it’s windows and started shouting at us. We got quite scared and went back inside the shop but they drove right up outside it and it looked like they were waiting for us to come out. Luckily, my friends mom came to pick us up in time.
And more recently, I was at a teen disco when a group of boys came up behind me and smacked my ass. It was not only painful and embarrassing, but they then kept asking me to get off with one of them. I tried to give them a piece of my mind but they just seemed to think it was funny.
The thing I find worst about the harrassment is that young boys, my age do it too so that’s means it’s getting passed on to new generations. I think they should teach more respect in schools, so that men can be more respectful in the future and that girls can learn to respect themselves and stand up for themselves.
I was headed home to Brooklyn for the day at about 2:30 p.m. after finishing a final exam at school in Manhattan. I was listening to a podcast and briefly closed my eyes between Rector and Whitehall. When I opened my eyes, there was a man sitting directly across from me (no other passengers were seated in this section of the train) masturbating with his genitals completely outside of his pants. His eyes were nearly closed. I got up and got loud, shouting, “What the are you doing jerking off in front of me?! That’s disgusting!” He got up and headed to the door at the other end of the car. I was so glad that a large, middle-aged man near where I had walked to in the car looked at me and said he had seen what happened. I told the man I didn’t want to let the guy get away, and he offered to help me. We walked to where the perpetrator was standing and stood right behind him. As soon as the doors opened at Whitehall, the perp bolted, and the fellow commuter and I flew after him.
I reached the perp first and grabbed the sleeve of his sweatshirt, bringing him down on the stairs. Three men helped me detain him on the stairs until the transit cop FINALLY came 10 minutes later. During that 10 minutes, the perp pleaded with me to let him go and to think of his family, he also kept trying to get away, but he knew he was too outnumbered to really make a run for it. Once the cop came, the other men departed. After a few minutes, the perp tried to get away from the cop by jumping the turnstile. I ran after him and grabbed him from behind by the belt, bringing him down to the ground. He resisted arrest, but the cop was finally able to handcuff him and he was arrested and taken into custody for public drunkenness and lewdness and I gave a formal statement to the police at the nearest substation.
I felt so good about not just keeping my mouth shut and letting this pervert get away with it. Even if nothing much happens to him, I feel happy with my decision to take action. On a side note, it was completely ridiculous to have to wait for 10 minutes for the transit cop to arrive. I also had to clearly state to the cops that I wanted to press charges against the guy, rather than them just giving him a warning.
Last Friday after work I decided to go for a run, it was a cool evening and it was starting to rain, which quickly turned to sleet and then light snow. I was less than a 1/4 mile into my run when I heard yelling — my ipod was between songs, otherwise I might have missed the specifics of it. There was a guy (I am assuming high school age) leaning out the window of a car on the other side of the street who screamed out, “Nice ass………WHORE!!!!!!!!!” I have to be honest, it wasn’t just the words that upset me, it was also how he said it — there was anger in his tone, and it felt threatening.
I tried to shake it off as just a bunch of immature kids with poor judgment and kept running.
Maybe a mile later I was on Beacon St in Cambridge when the same car drove by me again with this guy again hanging out the window screaming at me — I had my ipod cranked up so I don’t know what he said but the tone was, again, unmistakably angry & threatening. I was freaked out that this was the 2nd time they’d driven by me, and I was getting into less residential neighborhoods where there were fewer people on the streets — I had visions of the next time they drove past me, what if they pulled over? got out of the car? pulled me into the car?? I decided to listen to my gut, cut my run short, and turn around & head back for more populated streets & home.
Unfortunately I was not wearing my glasses & did not get the license plate #. I am getting over this but had an anxiety dream about it Friday night that involved me being cornered by a large man and calling for help that never came. I remain disturbed by the fact that somewhere, somehow, the boys/men in that car learned that harassing & threatening a woman in this way is acceptable.
I was out on a date, and two men walking past us felt the need to yell ‘Lucky boy, lucky boy!’ I flipped them off and kept walking and they laughed. This is the kind of thing that makes me feel unsafe if I’m not wearing a pair of baggy jeans and a man’s t-shirt. It made me want to punch them, no one should have to put up with that shit. We didn’t even know them.
Bringing to two the number of advertisers who have agreed to pull funding from Argentina’s El Guardian, Fiat issued this Facebook post in response to campaign pressure:
“…we would like to make it clear that Fiat and all of its employees in any parts of the world condemn any form of violence – be it against women, children, ethnic or religious minorities, including any attitude inciting violence, as also set out in the “Pacto Global Compact”, of which Fiat is one of the signatories in Argentina. We are carefully evaluating the situation and we will keep you informed through our usual communication and conversation channels. In any case Fiat advertising campaign on El Guardian already terminated on April 7.”
El Guardian maintains innocence of wrongdoing and has refused to terminate its relationship with the journalist in question.