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I’ve had more experiences with sexual harassment than I can even count, but this one stands out in my mind in particular.
I was eighteen years old, taking the Metro from my apartment in downtown DC to New Carrolton to meet my sister. She needed help with a charity event that her non-profit organization was putting on, and I’d agreed to paint faces of the children in attendance.
It was about 10 am on a Sunday morning, so the train was pretty empty. The only other person on the car with me was a male, approximately 35 years old, about 5’10”, 180 lbs. He was wearing a dark red dress shirt, a patterned tie, and black slacks. I was sitting at the far end of the car, and he was sitting in the middle, talking on his cell phone.
He got on the car at Stadium Armory, but I’d been on since Foggy Bottom. For the first few minutes he sat down while talking on his phone, but then got up and started pacing the car. Every time he got to the end of the car where I was seated, he would linger, blocking the aisle from my seat, and leaning over me. This creeped me out, so I got out my phone and started texting my sister and my boyfriend so that I would look busy and he would hopefully leave me alone.
My seat faced the rest of the car. There was another bench in front of me facing the same direction, than a space for the doors, and a bench facing me. He sat down on that bench, so that he was facing me. I tried to keep my head down and look engrossed with my phone, but I could see out of the corner of my eye that he was staring at me.
I detected movement, so I glanced up for a second. He had his penis out and was masturbating, still staring at me, still talking on his phone. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. I immediately felt EXTREMELY uncomfortable and unsafe. I didn’t know what this was going to escalate into, I felt endangered all alone on the train, and I wanted to cry.
I pressed the emergency intercom button that goes to the conductor which was right behind my head. The conductor asked what I needed, and I said that there was a man exposing himself on my car. At the next stop, the conductor came down to the car, but by that time the man had plenty of time to leave.
So, no police report or anything ever came of it.
I want to ask if you have a category for non-gender/sexuality based harassment? Because I’ve seen a lot of the same general kind of power dynamic in the verbal harassment given by some able-bodied people to people in wheelchairs, people on crutches (except if it looks obviously temporary, like a leg in a cast), people with visible challenges of cognitive function, people with speech issues.
Is there a Hollaback for those folks? Because some of those stories need to be told, too.
Thanks for your awesome question! We totally accept and welcome stories about street harassment in all its forms. While we focus on sex and gender based harassment, we know that street harassment is one of the most basic ways our culture keeps oppressed people of all kinds down, and that we are all in it together. We’re basically interested in the way power dynamics play out in all aspects of life in the public realm.
In terms of other resources that are more specifically geared toward people that are visibly physically challenged check out our friend Eva’s blog that focuses on the way people treat her as someone who’s physically disabled. It’s an amazing blog!
About half an hour ago I got on the back of the Spadina Streetcar at Spadina Station. A short (5.6″) man wearing jeans and a dark jacket was sitting in an aisle seat. He followed me to the back of the streetcar, sat down, spread his legs with one on the seat in front of him and began touching his genitals through his pants while looking over at me. This only lasted a few seconds before I looked him in the eyes getting ready to yell. He saw the provoked expression on my face and took his hands of his crotch and put his legs in front of him. I kept looking at him until I was sure he would not begin masturbating. Other male passengers got on the back of the streetcar and this pervert kept his eyes off me and his hands at his sides.
This man got off at College Street. To add to the above description, he looked rough: his hair was messy and he had stubble. He also talked to himself at one point in a South Asian accent.
I chose not to call the police because my previous experiences of reporting to the police were not satisfactory. I have experienced sexual assault and harassment many times in Toronto. In one instance, after being assaulted by a group of teenage boys, I had the experience of being intimidated by a police officer as he took my statement in my apartment: he kept inching closer to me until I was pressed up against my oven feeling unsafe. On another occasion I had police show up 20 minutes after a 911 call even though there was a police station less than 5 minutes away. The two officers who showed up appeared not to have any training around sexual violence and could not give any information about witness safety to a woman who was experiencing partner violence and stalking. I had called 911 on behalf of this woman after I had tried to help her, and after her partner nearly hit us with his car.
Regarding the man on the streetcar today, if you see this man masturbating on the TTC do not let him get away with it. If he touching himself (for more than a few seconds as in my case) and there are people around I would yell at him and draw others’ attention to him. I would also tell the driver. If you feel comfortable dealing with the police then place a call to them right away before this man leaves the streetcar. I understand that some people would not feel comfortable yelling, in this case just tell the driver and/or call the police.
There are so many incidents I don’t even know where to start, or when it even really all started.
In high school my sophomore year it got around that I was bisexual after some nasty girl found out that I was dating another girl at school. Walking home with her one day we were confronted by a group of guys from our school. They followed us for blocks saying obscene things and trying to get us to “let them show us what it’s like to be with real men since we obviously had never been with any man with a big enough cock.” and asking us how we like being ate out since, y’know, we pee out of there. i got so fed up with it and turned around and asked them if they liked it when their girlfriends gave them head because “y’know, you piss out of that.” After that they just kind of left us alone.
That was the first real time I stood up for myself when it was happening. I was so freaked out.
A few years later (this was right after I’d turned 18 and moved to another town) I was walking to my boyfriend’s work down the road about 12 blocks from where we lived and this group of guys were following me. At this point I was so used to stuff like this that i’d taken to carrying something called a “Stinger” (it’s basically an extendable metal rod with a ball on the tip and a large rubber grip for a handle) with me whenever I walked alone. They just kept leering at me and whistling, making loud comments about my “curves” and my “sway” and talking loudly about how’d they’d “tap that”. At one point they were following too close for comfort and several times it felt like they were trying to sniff my hair or grab my ass. Fed up with it I finally turned around and asked them what they wanted, as I did so I sneakily took my “stinger” out of it’s belt holder (which was hidden under my shirt). When they went to answer one said something like “We just want your attention sweetheart.” some other guy said “You’re so juicy, we just can’t resist.” I flicked the rod out so that it extended out to my side and I glared at them and said “Well, I don’t want yours.” They kind of freaked out and backed away from me. They never bothered me again.
It feels good to be able to do the same thing to them that they do to us women daily: Have some sort of power over them by scaring the crap out of them. It’s a nice turn of the tables, to make them feel like we do every time they do that kind of stuff to us, but at the same time I still think it’s sad that I’ve had to resort to carrying something so dangerous (and I think technically even illegal to own in my state) in order to make sure I can protect myself because stuff like this happens all of the time.
My friend and I were on riding the number 2 train last night from 42nd Street. At 34th Street an old man (resembling the Six Flags man) sat down diagonally across from us. To our right was a young Asian female with headphones on and taking a cat nap. He pulled out an old school SLR camera from a black plastic bag. He proceeded to take pictures of the young girl. He snapped at least two shots. Then pulled out a magnifying glass from the inside pocket of his grey blazer. I was appalled. We gently nudged the girl to wake her up and explained the situation to her. Unfortunately, she didn’t seem as appalled as were. She got off a few stops afterwards. He stayed on until Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, NY. He took pleasure in zooming in and out with the lens. And using the magnifying glass to take a “closer” look at this piece he just shot. This perv is on the loose and I can only imagine how many other shots he’s already captured. Be careful ladies and gents!
This story is not about being harassed, though I have experienced that to some extent.
This story is about a time when I tried to express to my peers how bad it felt to be called out or intimidated by strangers because of my appearance or maybe even just because I’m a woman. I was perhaps 15 at the time, sitting in high school drama class. As a group (mostly girls) we were having a candid discussion with our teacher about self-esteem and about how important it was as a dramatic group to support and respect each other. Towards the end of class, this turned into an open-forum discussion where people shared how they felt about their appearance and how tough it was living with impossible standards of female beauty (this was also roughly the same group of people who took the Media & Writing class and a lot of us were new, passionate feminists).
I decided I wanted to express how it felt to be yelled at in the street, called pretty/sexy/a whore, and to be propositioned by strangers. I felt so ashamed over these incidents, disgusted, convinced somehow (I assume by systematic patriarchal programming) that it was my fault and I had somehow invited the attention. I’m sure many people would agree that it does not make you feel good about your appearance or your body, even if the attention is “approving.” So the one thing I didn’t feel about these incidents was pride.
I received overwhelming dislike and disgust from most of my female classmates and immediately after class several of them lashed out at me. I can’t remember exactly what was said, but they belittled my feelings of disgust and shame and overall seemed to feel that I should take it as a compliment, that I should be happy that strange men found me appealing in this way. They felt (perhaps justifiably) that it had not been the time to tell my sob story about being “pretty” when so many of them had been struggling with feelings of being “ugly.” They were very mean about it and started a bit of a smear campaign against me.
Perhaps they were right and it wasn’t the best time to tell my story. But what they missed completely was that it made me feel BAD about myself. This incident kind of perverted my view on street harassment for a long time, and for several years afterwards I tried to be pleased over the dirty little comments. When my drunken neighbours would hang out on the front steps of their building all day and yell things at me as I passed, I would try to smile (though most of the time it was more like a grimace). Looking back, I am now ashamed over the fact that I tried to enjoy the attention!
I’m not sure why I felt the need to post this here, but to this day it is the experience regarding street harassment that still hurts the most. I wonder if anyone else has experienced something similar? Did you fall for it like I did?
To the girls out there who may be inclined to smile or accept catcalls as a compliment – it’s not. It’s disrespectful and degrading. It gives them the encouragement they want or need to continue harassing people. I, for one, will never miss another opportunity to hollaback.
Ironically enough last month we had a sexual harassment class. You know when they tell you what is appropriate and what isnt. I thought oh that would never happen in my school. Little did I know that it did. As I was leaving early i see this three kids that were younger than me yet bigger (I am really small) walking up the stairs as I am going down.
I am looking at my phone texting a friend, when this kid calls back “i said hey”. I turn around thinking i might know this person, and i stupidly answered “i dont even know you” he starts getting all worked up saying that i should still say hi and not be rude. That just because im hot and he likes my curves doesnt mean i have to be a stuck up chick.
I just walked away and ignored him, but it bugged me. The whole way down the stairs he kept shouting stuff.
The worst thing is that if i report it the kid will prob just get a detention (if that). Cause my school (a catholic one) does the most retarded punishments, once a kid handcuff some grade 7s to a toilet, punishment: oh a 3 day suspension, no biggie. You steal something, oh no punishment if you give it back, no questions will be asked
New York Times reporters Joseph Goldstein and Tim Stelloh join a growing rank of journalists who don’t quite get it (a club founded by James McKinley, whose coverage last month of a young girl’s gang rape and the Times’ decision to publish it appalled the general public). By ‘it’ we mean how to cover news un-misogynistically.
Their coverage of the dead bodies found on Long Island suspected to be the work of a serial killer is mostly unbiased. But it is worth pointing out a subtle indiscretion since the New York Times is read by, you know, a fair amount of people. We wouldn’t want any of those readers going off thinking that a story about a ‘missing prostitute’ is any different or less than a story about a ‘missing woman’.
Tip #1: Replace all instances of ‘missing prostitute’ with ‘missing ___ (fill in with gender of person)’.
Tip #2: Cover a person’s profession later in the story if it is relevant (in this case it is) but don’t include this information in your lede when it isn’t necessary and might cast an unsympathetic sway on your readers.
Nicola Badass Briggs, anti-street harassment hero poster child, now works for Hollaback.
Currently accepting user questions—Nicola will select several of them weekly and respond personally.
If you didn’t catch video of Nicola responding to a sexual predator on a NYC subway and the amazing bystanders who helped stop the man and film the incident, you can catch up here. We’re reposting, because it’s THAT good:
Maybe Yale needs to begin offering introductory civil rights courses to its administrators—we know of a group of men and women who can help teach them. 16 students have filed a complaint alleging the school has systemically failed to adequately address incidents of sexual harassment and assault by other students.
And the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating.
The school risks losing federal funding if found in violation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…”
We support the women and men at Yale who are working to make their campus a fair and equitable place.
Re-post this Associated Press article and help spread the word.