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I was late for school, really late, but what’s new? I was stressing over a paper and test in my English class and needed some caffeine to take the edge off. I stopped at a local 7-11 on my way to get my fix, and walked up to the cash register to pay for my purchase.
A man, average height, late 40’s, entered the store as I was waiting in line to pay. I have a habit of surveying everyone around me because of a prior experience with rape, and as per usual, I checked his threat level. I labeled him orange – which, in my terms, means he probably will whistle or perform a “NON-THREATENING” act of crude behavior. (As a side note, I find it ridiculous that I have to do this, regardless of where I am, but it’s an obsession of mine that will not dissipate until our culture changes its view on rape and violence against women.)
He stood behind me and proceeded to hiss in my ear. I could feel his breath on my neck, that’s how close he was to me. He whistled so loudly, I jumped and turned around. He then proceeded to lick his lips and gyrate his body. It was disturbing, to say the least.
I am incapable of not saying anything these days to the people who harass me. There were about 6 people in the store, so I loudly spoke up, allowing everyone to hear me crystal clear.
“SIR, YOU ARE ACTING LUDE AND DISGUSTING. DO YOU HAVE DAUGHTERS? IS THIS THE KIND OF BEHAVIOR YOU WOULD WANT THEM TO EXPERIENCE? THIS IS DISTURBING, SIR. I WOULD APPRECIATE IT IF YOU COULD TREAT ME LIKE A HUMAN BEING, INSTEAD OF A PIECE OF MEAT THAT IS DANGLING IN FRONT OF A PACK OF WILD DOGS. I AM A WOMAN. I AM NOT SUBHUMAN, I AM NOT YOUR PLAY THING, AND I AM NOT YOUR OBJECT. CHECK YOURSELF, SIR. NOW APOLOGIZE.”
Needless to say, I embarrassed him beyond belief, and he muttered an “I’m sorry” under his tobacco breath. I paid for my drink, walked out, and got into my car. I sat there for a moment, engine running, and cried.
That is, until a woman came running from the 7-11 and knocked on my window.
“Thank you,” she said, fighting back her own tears. “Thank you for doing that. I was raped when I was 15 by a man I trusted. I never had the courage to speak up to the hundreds of other men who catcall, harass, and threaten me on a monthly basis. You have just given me the strength to stand up for myself. Thank you.”
I was stunned. Ladies, please know you are never alone in this. We are in it together. United we stand.
I was walking to campus from Walgreens when some guy with his hands shoved in his sweatpants pockets started following me. He followed me almost to the park, at which point I was basically running, yelling about how big his dick was and how much I’d like it. When he stopped following, he started calling me a bitch and an assortment of other great names. I’m just glad he didn’t follow me any further.
I was meeting some friends for drinks at around 6pm on a summers evening last year, it was still light and I was walking alone. I turned onto a quiet street and two men who were noticeably drunk passed me on the opposite side of the road. One of them shouted over to me “Hey wanna come back to mine and fuck?”, the other man looked embarrassed and laughed nervously trying to hold his friend up as he was stumbling around. I stopped and faced them and looked at the guy in disgust and declined his offer. The man then shouted “what the fuck you should be paying me to have sex with you!”, his friend apologized to me and dragged the guy away. I felt so angry afterwards that someone can say things like that to a complete stranger and think it’s all a big joke!
It’s been one of the best days of the year today, so my sister (22) and I (26) took our dog a walk in the park. There were hundreds of people in the park enjoying the weather. Whilst walking through a wooded part of the park we walked past two boys no more than 14 years old riding bikes up and down some ramps. When we were a good hundred yards past them one shouted “Hey girl in the blue t-shirt”. My sister looked at me and said to me “Im not a girl and this is a hoodie not a t-shirt”, trying to pass off the comment for them being daft and attention seeking. We never looked round so the boy repeated what he’d said then followed it up with some thing along the lines of “I want to lick your pussy”. We kept walking and I was worried about what would happen if they followed us to carry on but luckily they didn’t. There were other people and families around but probably not close enough to hear what the boy said. I was shocked I just couldn’t believe a 14 year old would say something like that. Anyway that ruined our nice walk in the park and I’m not sure I’ll feel as safe next time I go.
Instead of talking about all the horrible situations where I was helpless (stalking, harassment, even being run over by a cyclist!) I want to talk about the time I had had enough. I don’t want to talk about the ones who laughed and sped off. I want to talk about the one where I took back control, and wound up getting a child molester arrested.
It was in 2009 or 2010, and I was in my final year of school at Sheridan College, a prestigious animation school in a well-to-do suburban town outside of Toronto. I and a friend from university rented a very nice townhouse in a small, secluded cul-de-sac near the school. It was early afternoon on a springy Saturday, and my boss had just dropped me off from work. I was puttering in the front yard, talking with my sweetheart on the phone and weeding the garden. Several neighbours and their children were out.
Our house backs on to a heavily wooded ravine, and has a few shaded areas not easily seen from the street. I was aware of a man milling about, but thought he was one of the neighbours, and so I ignored him. He hung around harmlessly enough for about 45 minutes. Because I figured he belonged there, I didn’t find him remarkable until he slunk up from beside my house and gestured to me. I realized that he was waving his limp penis at me and gesturing for me to come over –out of view of the street, back into the trees.
Something in me snapped. I didn’t think at all. I didn’t feel any fear. It was like all the horrible instances of harassment and stalking that had happened in the past went by me in a flash. I felt TOUGH. I felt ANGRY. This was MY HOUSE, MY YARD and MY STREET.
The first thing I shouted was “Olivia, lock the door” (My roommate was assaulted as a teen. For whatever reason my first instinct was to keep her out of the situation) The next thing I did was scream “Get the f*ck out of here! I don’t want to see that! What do you think you’re doing! You filthy pervert! I’m calling the cops”
A lot happened at once here. My poor boyfriend on the phone has no idea what’s happening as I inform him that there’s a pervert and I have to hang up and call the police. The man turns and saunters away from me –through the gate into my backyard! My three-year-old neighbour comes running over to see what’s going on. I snatched her up and took her with me back out into the street, and called 911.
The adrenaline finally started to wear off and I began to shake. My neighbour and landlady came out, and went to check the treeline. The police arrived. My boyfriend (now fiance!) showed up, out of breathe and barefoot (when I hung up on him to call 911, he dropped his phone and ran straight out of his apartment to my house, not even stopping to put shoes on –he thought a rapist had broken in). He was too winded to speak, and it took a few minutes to explain to the police that they didn’t need to arrest him!
My roommate (she’d gone to the back door when I yelled for her to lock the house, and watched our perv make his way through the yard) and I filed police reports, and incident reports with the property manager. She and our next door neighbour recognized my description, and the flasher was arrested a few blocks away. It turned out he had a history of this behaviour.
Here’s the real kicker, though — As the police are pulling up, Some sleazy young man (clearly drunk or high) had the gall to come up to me and say “He doesn’t mean it. It’s just my friend. he’s like this when he’s drunk! You don’t need to call the cops or anything. It’s no big deal” I looked him in the eye and asked if he had ever been assaulted. I said “It’s threatening. It’s a sexual threat. It’s not funny for us.” He shrugged and proceeded to hit on my roommate (SERIOUSLY?!).
Later on I was informed that our perv had been jailed. Following our report, they looked into the bastard’s history, and started asking his family some questions. He was the somewhat estranged father of a little girl on my street. When they questioned her about any “weird things” he might have done, she answered yes to every question.
Looking back, I’m glad I got angry instead of helpless. I had a lot of elements in my favour that day –it was daylight, I was on my own turf, and I had backup handy. I wish I’d gotten angrier. I wish I’d been using a shovel in the garden that day (self defence! I didn’t mean to castrate him!). It breaks my heart to think of what that little girl endured.
In the space of two minutes: “nice tits!” “sweetheart, do you have a jacket? Because you need a jacket,” and “Hey mama, what’s up?”
A) You’re an asshole, clearly.
B) It might be cloudy, but you might have noticed that I’m carrying a gigantic, heavy satchel, and I just ran up some stairs. Because of this, I am feeling very warm, and have taken off my hoodie. You may be concerned about my short-sleeved shirt, but I assure you I know what’s best for me, and what makes me comfortable. Also, I’m not your sweetheart you fucking dickpenis.
C) Really? Why would I even respond to being called “mama” by a stranger? Not really into the Oedipal thing. I will say, though, your confused expression as I began to vigorously pick my nose and make eye contact was amusing.
And for all the “what were you wearing” haters, cargo pants. Baggy cargo pants, a long, not-low cut tank top with one-inch wide straps, a stained hoodie wrapped around my waist, disheveled hair, glasses, and a gigantic messenger bag-probably the size of an English bulldog. I shit you not. Fuck you, patriarchy, you can’t pin this shit on me, and I swear to god I WILL take you down.
Here’s to safe streets for all.
(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 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!
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.
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.