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Briana’s story: everyday heroes that remind you that you’re not alone

(I shared a story yesterday and was shocked when it was posted as the first bystander story, so I thought I share a few incidences where I was the victim and people had MY back)

I was waiting for the lightrail to go to work when a man came and sat beside me. He started asking pretty sexual questions and I tried to deflect him, and eventually asked him to leave. When he didn’t, I moved to stand closer to a group of people. He got up to follow me, a security guard approached me and the man walked away. That same security guard stood and waited with me every morning from that day on. We became rather good friends and I’ve always been grateful for his care and concern.

I was sitting on the lightrail, headed to work, when a homeless man came up behind me and started petting my hair. He was murmuring how “pretty” I was and how shiny my hair clip was. I was paralyzed with indecision, the car was mostly empty and the man was obviously a few cards short of a full deck. He was behind me and touching me, and I could see in the reflective glass that he was much bigger than me. What if I upset him and he lashed out to hurt me? There was a tough “gangster” looking guy sitting across the isle from me a couple seats down who stood up and growled at the man to get his (expletive) hands off of me and to “leave the girl alone”. The homeless man moved to the back of the car and got off at the next stop. The “gangster” looking guy moved to the seat across the isle from me and “mean mugged” anyone who came near me until I reached my stop. We never exchanged words, but I sent him a thankful glance and had the feeling he was warning people away from me to give me time to recover and collect myself. I wish I had been less shaken and able to properly express my gratitude.

I was headed home from work and got off the lightrail to change trains. A few steps out a man behind me tried to get my attention by saying something along the lines of “Hey baby, where you headed?” I turned my head and saw him moving towards me, when a police officer blocked his path and told him to leave me alone. I kept walking but heard the people around me. Some were laughing, but I heard one girl talking to a friend saying she couldn’t believe that just happened – what right did a cop have to tell a guy not to talk to some girl?

I could keep going. If I go somewhere I’m normally walking or taking public transportation. I even have stories from walking home from the bus stop in middle school. Being a victim of street harassment makes you feel vulnerable and in constant danger every time you step outside your front door, but sometimes there are everyday heroes that remind you that you’re not alone and if you are lucky someone will be there to have your back.

There are a few things that have kept me unmolested for the most part that I’d like to share with you.

*Vary your routine, if at all possible make the routes you walk random.
*If possible, walk with a friend. Sometimes this may be as simple as striking up a conversation with another female traveling in the same direction as you and walking together.
*Stay close to groups, if they’re around stay near law enforcement or security. Isolating yourself makes you an easy target.
*Be aware of your surroundings, walk with confidence, and don’t slow down when someone tries to talk to you.
*Don’t be afraid to ask for help, people are usually more than happy to provide it.

Good luck, stay safe, and remember to have each other’s backs.

I've got your back!
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Susan’s bystander story: I had to step up to him

I have experienced more instances of harassment in Amherst than I could recount so I’ll share the most recent, which happened to a friend of mine.
We were out at a bar for her 21st birthday, she’d had a lot to drink, we were sitting outside at around 12:30am. She was sitting on the ground next to a bench, with about 6 friends (men and women) around, visibly intoxicated. A man walked up and, ignoring all of us standing and talking around her, pulled out some cheesy pick-up line. I let him know she wasn’t interested and he walked away, only to walk in a small circle around us and return to stand in front of my friend. He repeated this lurking, zeroing in and slimy line routine 4-5 times, and each time I told him that she was fine and he needed to leave her alone. I had to step up to him (I being an average-sized woman and he being a very tall, large man who I believe works the door) and tell him he needed to back off right away, and he finally did and skulked off into the bar.
I can’t imagine what would make a person think they could act that way, especially with so many people around, and what made every other person stand there and pretend they weren’t seeing this man try to take advantage of their petite, incapacitated friend. Unfortunately, this is a scene that plays out over and over here and most other places…all I ask is that more people hollaback and help each other stay safe!

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Article, demonstration

Briana’s story: I’ve got your back!

We are proud to announce this is our first-ever bystander story submitted! Yipppeeee! For more information on our ‘I’ve Got Your Back’ bystander campaign, click here.

I was about 15 years old and I saw a young woman being screamed at by a man who I think may have been her boyfriend. He was alternately shoving her and grabbing her by her arm. It was a weekend during the summer, busy and hot, the street was full of people (mostly tourists I think) who had nothing better to do than browse shops or wander through museums. I stood there for a moment just watching the scene, amazed at all the people walking by and ignoring what was happening. People were actually crossing the street so they didn’t have to come near them.

When I realized no one else was going to do anything to stop this from happening, I decided to. So I walked up to them and said something like “Hey, get your hands off of her!” Then pulled the young woman aside and asked if she wanted my help. She said yes and I asked if she wanted that man to go away, and she said that she did. I told the man to leave, he was angry and I thought for a moment he might hit me or something – but my involvement in the scene for some reason made people stop and watch while they’d been ignoring it before. The man turned away and stomped off.

I walked some distance away and sat with the young woman until she’d calmed down, offered her buss fair, and ended up lending her my phone so she could call for a ride.

Looking back I still can’t believe how apathetic those other bystanders were, and I hope it shamed them a little that a lone young girl had the balls to stand up and do the right thing while grown men and women (some in fairly large groups) turned away from another’s pain or twiddled their thumbs in indecision.

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Megan’s story: Harassment in the Digital Age

I recently had the painfully unpleasant (but all too common) experience of being sexually harassed by a man. I was harassed in a digital age, when creepy men can invade your personal space by sending their unwanted and invasive attention straight to you, regardless of where you are or what you are doing. I was sexually harassed while I was enjoying dinner at home with my family and friends, this creep’s crass thoughts and words flooding me with fear and shame in the comfort of the home I grew up in. I was sexually harassed while I was working at school, this asshole’s demented ideas trashing my consciousness and the innocent environment it was meant to be nourishing. I was sexually harassed and it was NOT OK. It IS not OK. But when I reported it to the local police force meant to protect me from this kind of creep- this ONE creep of an entire species of creeps pervading the male-world we live in- it informed me that this sexual harassment WAS, in fact, OK because it did not place me in any sort of direct existential danger, and that if he continued to harass me I should simply change my number and avoid the areas I typically see him creeping around.

When I hung up the phone with the police I thought to myself: Something here is terribly wrong.

Now let us be frank about this endemic plague called sexual harassment that male homo sapiens can’t seem to kick. It shares the same qualities of all of society’s ugliest actualities, but is experienced by an entire gender group, worldwide, and everyday. To be female in the world- today, yesterday and tomorrows to come- is to be subject to sexual harassment by men. For women, sexual harassment is as pervasive and (dare I say) NATURAL an everyday part of our realities as breathing: it is in us and outside of us from our youth on up to adulthood, a period through which we develop our own personal means of dealing with it while trying to fulfill ourselves meaningfully in a world built up against us. I have historically dealt with it through silence, ignoring the presumptive “hey baby’s” and “nice ass’s” by quickening my pace and turning my face from the eyes and mouths violating me. A friend of mine plays crazy, staring blankly or yelling incoherently at her perpetrators’ advances until they finally back off (needless to say, some don’t). Yes, we women have our ways of dealing with the sick and unfair reality our sexist history has constructed for us , and to varying degrees they allow us to get through the day to day.

But today our methods, my methods especially, are dated. Today, my (admittedly) passive silent reaction to a man’s harassment protects me from him about as much as a cigarette protects a smoker from getting lung cancer: Not only does my silence fail to protect me, it makes the situation worse. As I repeatedly erased the explicitly crude messages invading my phone and interrupting my life- my life as I was CHOOSING to experience it- I was giving this creep the power to manipulate my immediate condition and surroundings. When I simply closed out the digital garbage littering my laptop’s inbox and polluting my mind, I was allowing this jerk the liberty to control how I was feeling and thinking at that time. And when I reported this unjust robbery of my self-determination, I was told that silence and avoidance would be the only means of coping with the harassment until it transpired into something more “real”: a response which, rather than providing me a sense of comfort and consolation from fear, stirred in me a very deep sense of rage, and a firm new determination to never feel that fear again.

We live in a world today where people die from the lives they lead in digital media. Kids commit suicide from cyber bullying, people are trafficked into fatal situations, and women get harassed- and abused, and prostituted, and raped and killed- in a cyberspace that increasingly takes on the oppressive patriarchal qualities of the society that produced it. Not only do women now have the “real” male-oriented world to navigate and survive in, we also have the equivocally real, male-oriented cyber-reality to navigate and survive in, the latter’s very “unreality” making it all the more dangerous. Who we women choose to participate in our everyday “real” lives is something that is fortunately very much in our control, despite the abrasive harassment which inevitably invades them. We are free to pick and choose what male attention we wish to fill those lives with, while surviving the grimy reality of unwanted male attention because we are women and that is what we women do. Who we invite to participate in our digitized lives, however, is something entirely different completely. While our digital livelihoods are not something we are completely powerless over, they do involve spaces that make our digital (and real) selves more readily accessible and vulnerable to unwanted attention, gazes and words. Creepy men will, and are, invading those spaces, and it is not something that will stop by simply ignoring it or keeping your mouth shut. Cigarettes will kill you. Silence will make this harassment worse.

So consider this my own little vernacular vendetta against the creep who thought it was OK to fuck with me, to make me feel belittled, ashamed and afraid (to protect the integrity of his identity, I will refer to him here as “the-guy-you-all-know-if-you-go-to-the-Starbuck’s-on-Monroe-Avenue,-Monday-through-Friday,-anytime-from-about-7-a.m.-to-5-p.m.,-who-wears-a-yellow-jacket-and-rain-boots-and-sits-in-one-of-the-larger-comfy-chairs-pretending-to-write-a-math-textbook-while-actually-sexually-harassing-women-all-day-long,-who-is-reported-to-have-done-this-to-countless-girls-before-me-and-will-unquestionably-continue-to-do-so,-so-long-as-all-of-us-girls-stay-quiet-and-choose-not-to-stop-taking-this-BULLSHIT!). But it’s more than that. It’s a statement that this kind of harassment is more pervasive and less tolerable in today’s digital age than the former kind was, currently is, or ever will be in the future. It is ubiquitous and just as menacing, dangerous and unacceptable as any other form of harassment or abuse for the very real and tragic consequences we’ve seen it create. Why should a woman being sexually harassed on the street be given different consideration than one being sexually harassed in the privacy of her own home? Why must a woman feel the direct physical fear of a man for her fear to be taken seriously by the law, and why have our laws failed to acknowledge this fear manifesting itself in new forms, through our new medias and in our new digital selves?

Freedom from fear is not a right limited to the world we actively live in, but one that extends into the worlds we create with our language and means of expression. The fact that the digital worlds we populate are not real in a corporeal sense does not absolve us the moral responsibility we have to endow those worlds with a bit of humanity. The fear I felt every day the aforementioned creep harassed me was unquestionably real, though that fear’s source was “not.” If fear can blur the lines separating our “real” selves from our digital selves” and our “real” worlds from our digital worlds, freedom from fear can do it too, in a very loud way.

I've got your back!
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Nisha’s story: “Where you headed?”

My friend and I were walking in our neighbourhood, not far from where we lived. A car came up beside us. A man probably in his late 20′s and another teenager who couldn’t have been older than 17.

The Teenager: Hey girls
Us: Hey
Him: Where you headed?
Me: To my house
Us: Oh yeah, where you live?
Me: Oh, just around there…ish… (With my open hand waving vaguely over an area)
Him: Oh you live close then? Why don’t you girls come down to Limberlost tonight?
Us: Ok…
Him: We’ll show you a great time. See you ladies later.

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Nisha’s story: That minor incident could’ve been something huge.

During the summer vacation, my friend and I were walking through a relatively empty parking lot. As were walking, I hear a car going really fast nearby. Like – Right behind us – nearby. I looked over my shoulder and a white SUV pulled up right beside us. If I hadn’t grabbed my friend out of the way, the car might have grazed her. To our left five or six early 20′s men smiled at us. The driver said “Hey Ladies” to us and looked into our faces. Our just turned 14 year old faces. The driver sheepishly said “Oh, we thought you were someone else” and just as quickly as they appeared, they disappeared. My friend and I stood there for a few seconds. Still stunned by what happened. Eventually we laughed it off. I mean – no one got hurt and that’s just a funny story to tell at parties, we joked. But when I got home, I thought about it. They could have hit my friend. They could have easily dragged us into the car. There was no one around. That minor incident could’ve been something huge.

But of course, it’s just a story that I tell at parties.

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Livia’s story: They’d visually stalk me every time I walked out the door

Hey Hollaback y’alls,

So, I like this. I like this because I thought of waging my own anti-street harassment campaigns the same time you were building this website. Awesome.

I lived in San Francisco, in the deep mission. The men stared at EVERY woman under 30 who walked by. They’d visually stalk me every time I walked out the door.

I had seriously high anxiety in San Francisco because I was always being watched. Walking down the street, men would see me from a block away, and literally turn their bodies toward me while still talking to each other & stare. As I walked past them, they’d turn their bodies so they could watch me walk away.

This was a daily thing. I dreamed of putting up posters that said, ” Staring is rude.” “We think men who stare are unattractive.” Knowing they were total homophobic pigs…”Would you fuck a 68 year old man? Neither would I. Stop Staring.”

I didn’t do it, but I think I still will.

I've got your back!
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Jasmine’s Story: “I’m about to violate you right now.”

I was walking down the street and a boy tried to talk to me (he was with a group of other boys). He asked if he was “valid” (or good enough) to talk to, and I responded “no, I have a boyfriend.” He then said “f@ck your boyfriend, what does he have to do with me, I’m not talking about him. This is why I can’t stand harlem b*tches (the boys joined in by laughing).” I asked “harlem what?” and his friend responded “harlem girls.” The boy then repeated “harlem b*tches” and went on to say, “your on my block talking, I should get you jumped. I’m about to violate you right now.” I tried to verbally defend myself, but then decided to cross the street.

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Jaya’s Story: “Exhausting and frustrating”

I live in UP, North India. It’s a bad place for eve teasing! In my home town which is so small and peaceful, you still get roadside romeos who think it’s a big turn on to follow you home on their bikes yelling things at you all the way. Then when they’ve had enough and are bored they say “Sorry, just having fun!” and zoom off!

Also get all kinds of harassment from every guy who walks past when you go to a park. No matter what you wear, they are drawn like moths to a flame. In shopping malls I have been followed and harassed. These guys just can’t understand why you are scared and have no desire to talk to some stranger who is following you around!

Even older men are up to these tricks. And once common thing you will get is that when you walk past someone will start to sing or play on their phone a raunchy song from some movie. It’s horrible. You feel like everyone is staring at you like a piece of meat.

In places other than my hometown, I have experienced groping. Some guy once followed me trying to talk to me and when I told him to leave me alone he lunged forward and grabbed my breast hard for a moment before racing away. It was painful physically and frustrating too because I didn’t even have time to yell. I felt so used and abused afterwards.

These men should understand how frightening and humiliating it is to go outside on your own streets and be treated this way. It is not a compliment to be noticed, it is exhausting and frustrating to only be seen as a sex object. Would they like their sister, mothers, wives and daughters to be treated that way? I am sick of so many noticing that I am a female with a female body and staring at that as if it is theirs for the taking. I dream of a world where my mind and my actions are more important.

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Natalie’s Story: Not a whore

Jeep pulled over, called me a whore like 4 times, and when I turned around and said what did you say? They said one two three, “WHORE you retard.”

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