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I’ve lived in the Bay Area my whole life and have experienced all sorts of street harassment (cat calling, inappropriate touching, etc.), but what happened recently has really made me question if I should even bother responding to small talk from strangers at all.
On the night of 2/17 (approx. 8:30pm), I was making my way to the train station after my evening class and was approached by a man who looked to be in his late 30s-40s. He told me he liked my boots. I said “Thanks.” My wardrobe was basic: hoodie, scarf, long thermal + t-shirt, jeans and bright red Dr. Marten boots. He then proceeded to keep the conversation going by asking me my name, where I was heading and if we could walk to the train station together. I started to feel uneasy at that point considering that a classmate told me about a series of sexual assaults near the campus. However, despite my uneasiness, he looked harmless and seemed like he was lonely and needed someone to talk to. I was raised to be polite so I agreed to his request, but made a point to be very cautious by walking under the light and close to other people.
Once we made it to the station, we exchanged information about our goals in school, where we lived, just basic ‘get to know you’ stuff. The first red flag that I noticed was when I told him about my train exit, he responded with: “Oh well, I have the extra money to visit there so I’ll get off the same stop as you.” I was immediately taken aback and got really nervous since his train is on the opposite side of the platform. Earlier he told me that he was going home then all of a sudden changes his mind? I asked him “Do you even know anyone in the area?” and he said, “Yeah, I have a couple of friends who live there. In fact, I got my first car there.” I got my cell phone out of my backpack and started texting my boyfriend, unfortunately, since the train station is underground I couldn’t get any reception! I panicked, but did not show it.
The second red flag was when he started commenting on my looks and told me how pretty my smile was and that he was glad he met me. He sounded so OBSESSED and creepy. The way he looked at me made me feel dirty. With cell phone in hand, I told him that I had to make an IMPORTANT phone call and he should stick around so we could take the train together. He said “OK, I will be waiting for you.” I didn’t bother letting him finish his sentence and ran upstairs as fast as I could and notified the station agents about my situation. I could barely speak because I was terrified at that point. When I finally got reception I called my boyfriend and told him that I was really scared and asked if he could pick me up. The wait (about 15 minutes) felt like hours! The man never came upstairs to check on me (thankfully!) and finally my phone rang. I felt so relieved… who knows how the night could have ended if I would have never made that phone call.
I was pretty shaken up that night and still am. As I’ve mentioned in the beginning I have dealt with my fair share of street harassment, but nothing to this degree. This guy was willing to get off the same exit as I did even though he lives the opposite way! This story may not seem like a big deal, but I will never forget the look in his eyes. The last time someone followed me home I ended up being sexually assaulted so this incident brought back a lot of bad memories.
As of now, I don’t have any solid plans for my after school commute, but have decided to ignore compliments from strangers entirely. My politeness seems to be an open invitation for harassment or inappropriate behavior. I can’t dress up or dress down. Nothing seems to help! What’s a girl to do?
Thanks for reading and stay safe out there.
Submitted by S.P.
This was long ago, but I was maybe 12 or 13 and had just moved into a fairly pricey, secluded suburban neighborhood that was still building new homes. I had my own bathroom with a window that happened to face a house being built next door to mine but alas, I lacked a proper window shade. I would shower at approximately the same time each day a bit after getting home from school when one day I had the most awful feeling and peered out my bathroom window. Not just one construction worker but a few others were just standing there, looking right back at me. These perverts had presumably been watching me get into my shower for several days. Freaking pedophiles! Gross! I still feel the same indignities every time a dirty man slows down his vehicle while I’m walking down the street, every catcall, leer or lewd gesture. I despise the fact that some people have no shame or decency.
Submitted by Liz
I studied abroad in Holland and loved almost every second of my semester in the country of gouda, tulips and tall, tall men. Almost. It’s sad that I’ve grown to accept the fact that verbal street harassment will forever be a part of my transit. I reluctantly came to terms with their format – usually verbal and often racial. I learned that the word “ni hao” meant “hello” in Mandarin, not through a book or friend, but because from an early age, it was so often shouted at me in passing. Of course, I no longer expect any of these men to suspect that they actually coexist with a diverse range of Asian Americans, but that never prevents me from responding with an forceful, “I’m not Chinese!” or keeping it sweet and simple with a flip-off.
It’s true that aggressively responding to such harassments can be reckless and lead to escalated incidents, but I’ve never been able to shut up the voice inside my head, which tells me that no man should be allowed to make a woman uncomfortable in her own city and not at least have his stupidity met with clear resentment. This is weird, but I seriously think about my nonexistent/hypothetical daughter during each catcall and refuse to think about her growing up in an environment where these actions aren’t met with some consequence. I don’t want her constantly on guard and uncomfortable in her own world when the only thing she should be thinking about is getting from point A to point B.
So, I might have not been fine with the state of street harassment, but for the most part, I felt physically safe when confronted in public areas and city streets. Unfortunately, my perceptions were skewed when my mom and sister came to stay in Amsterdam and my sister and I were making our way back to the hotel. We were taking a very crowded tram when I noticed that a man was staring at me from across the car. I glared back at him as he continued peering around people to continue smiling at me, raising his eyebrows up and down, etc. When it got to the point where I felt the need to mouth something obscene to him, his smile faded and he became noticeably irate. My sister and I exited the tram on one of the busiest tourist spots in the city and were immediately followed by our new friend, who began shouting obscenities and things like: “What’d you say to me, China?!” He followed us down the street until we took refuge in a theater venue. We made the decision to ask for security when we saw him pacing back and forth outside the box office and were directed to a back door exit. We made our way back to the hotel with our eyes darting around faster than our feet and never relayed the message to our mom.
I may not be proud of my gut reactions and the situation wasn’t all that bad in retrospect, but what if my sister wasn’t there to back me down or what if we had chosen a more desolate tram stop? Words cannot describe how disparaged I feel when faced with the harsh reality of what my gender so often deals with on a day-to-day basis. Much of my frustration is rooted in the simple fact that we cannot retaliate without taking at least some physical risk. I hope websites like Hollaback! continue to act as a channel for women who want to retaliate with a cell phone photo or simply share their story. I remain optimistic that more people, both women and men will empathize and understand the need to shed serious light on the issue. After all, I’m not the only one with a nonexistent/hypothetical daughter in mind, right?
Submitted by Melanie
I’m invisible when I walk down the street alone. I get cursory glances from some people but hardly anyone looks up. I’m readily identified as male-bodied. The second day I met two women from Britain at my hostel and it seemed like the creeps came out of the woodwork. Of course, they were there all along, but they don’t feel the entitlement to harass a white male – yet when a woman passes…
From Downtown Cairo to Dokki to the pyramids we endured catcalls and hisses. The worst was when we got back to Talaat Harb Square. A young guy hissed at my friends and followed us. As we were crossing the street he was getting aggressively close to one of my friends and telling her really disgusting, rude shit. I moved to help block him off and he started swearing at us, calling me a “fucker” (“you fucker, I saw you with other girls last week!” – sorry, I just got here yesterday) and them “American bitches”.
Ah, right. Then, he tried to invite us to buy some scented oils at his shop! Yay! … (north side of Talaat Harb immediately to the west of the square – avoid this shop).
Finally, we fought him off at his shop and went back to our hostel. The experience was rounded out so perfectly, I feel, when the doorman for the hostel stopped us to tell my friends that, “look, you’re in the right, you’re very respectful – you are well-covered and you have a male escort. He is a fucker.” Clearly, dressing modestly and having a “male escort” is no protection against harassment.
In the six months I’ve lived here since I’ve heard it repeated by the women who live here: you’re told to conform to standards of dress and movement (male escort, use the female-only car on the metro) to avoid being harassed (and worse) but they’re useless in the face of a determined, self-entitled fuck.
Submitted by Daetan
I’m 22, and this happened to me when I was 12 and traveling with a group in London, but it still haunts me. So it was midnight and I was on the tube with a group of teens and two chaperones, but we were all spread out because it was so crowded. I was standing there looking at the floor when I felt this guy to my right watching me. I looked up and made eye contact, and I swear his eye got wider in a really creepy way. I looked away, but he didn’t stop staring. I kept glancing at him, and the only time within maybe five minutes when he broke his stare was to scratch his nose…and then he went right back to staring at me. Finally, the tube stopped and my group started getting off.
As soon as I started to move to get off, this creep started following me. That’s when I REALLY panicked, as in my fight-or-flight instinct kicked in. Despite the crowd, I ran. He ran after me and actually reached out to grab me. Without thinking, I grabbed some lady’s sweater, yanked on it, and hurled myself off the tube. And just after I jumped off, with him right behind me, the tube doors closed on his face. I turned around to look, and the last I saw of him, he had his face and hands mashed up against the door windows, still staring at me, and looking VERY pissed off. I told a chaperone what had happened (don’t know if they believed me), but they let me hold one of their hands all the way back to the hotel.
It sounds like something out of a psychological thriller or horror movie, I know, but it was real and to date, the scariest time of my life. I can’t stand to think what might have happened if that creep had gotten hold of me. I’m still afraid to ride trains alone.
Submitted by Rebecca
An update to my situation:
I originally posted on December 23, 2009 (Bisexual men get harassed too). I have since moved to Los Angeles, CA and i yelled at elderly Italian man from my window that i was moving back to los angeles and that he can’t mess with me any more. But i have learned that he is still messing with me from ny via online, because when I go out I hear people gossiping about naked videos of me or the false slanderous stories the old italian man spread about me from NY so I am going to seek the help of WHOA (Working to Halt Online Abuse) and Jane Hitchcock. I just don’t know what to do and lucky i found out about WHOA and hopefully they can help me deal with my cyber harasser/perverted ex-neighbor.
Some people wanted to assault me due to the false slanderous stories but saw that i was good looking in person so they left me alone. I am stressed out and contemplated suicide but joining a church helped.
Submitted by Michael L.
This past summer, I submitted a harassment experience here. Recently, I told my mom about it (I’m 17) and she told me about something that happened to her and my little sister (age 10) when they were visiting me in Boston. I wanted to post it here because when children are harassed, often no one ever finds out. I wanted to make it clear that street harassment affects children too, and that my little sister is one of the lucky ones.
My mom and sister were on the Orange Line, not sure which station, when my mom noticed a youngish man staring at my little sister. She’s an exceptionally pretty little girl, so this was not altogether unusual, but my mom said that something in the way he was looking my little sister up and down made the hair stand up on the back of her neck. When the train came to the next station, my mom hustled my sister out of their car and into another car. The man followed them, still staring at my sister. At the next stop, Mom tried to switch cars again, and although the man tried to follow, they were too fast for him and escaped. My little sister never knew what was going on; Mom just told her she wanted a less crowded car.
Since then, my sister has been followed by another man here at home in Ohio on her way to and from choir practice. She was really frightened and asked my dad to drive her from now on; the stalker has since disappeared. But I’m so scared for her. Just thinking about this shit makes me want to throw up. A little girl should not have to ride a train- or walk around her own town- in fear.
Submitted by Katherine
This guy at my church is constantly asking for hugs…and when he hugs me he squeezes me and says ummm ugh unnnnn. I hate this. I asked several deacons to speak to him along with telling my Pastor. This guy who was supposed to be a deacon himself eventually left the church. I feel bad that he is no longer a member but I do feel safer. Now we have another weirdo there and his brother is a known serial killer. He is always trying to help me and asking me questions out of just trying to get my attention. I always try to be pleasant and usually decline his offers of assistance. He is always persistent but I am always firm and tell him I do not need help. To all women who are having this issue….I will tell you that you need to keep your distance from men like this, because they have the potential to become extremely aggressive, disrespectful, untrustworthy and above all unpredictable. Never let your guards down and never be caught in a situation where you are alone with a person with this personality.
Submitted by Shelly La Mar
Okay. This isn’t exactly my story but it just HAS to be told purely for its awesomeness.
My sister, aged 19, was getting home one night from her boyfriend’s place, which is only about 15 minutes away, but since it was quite late she thought it better to wait at one of the bus stops instead.
Cue the creepy guy who followed her all the way to the bus stop and proceeded to leer and ask ‘How much?’ (for sex). What did my sister do? She pulled out a bread knife from inside her pocket, aimed it straight at this guy, accompanied by a pretty vicious sounding ‘FUCK OFF’. The dude backed right off, but not before muttering ‘bitch’ under his breath, according to my sister. Oh yes. As if he was the victim in this scenario.
I know that physical confrontation isn’t always the wisest thing to do in these situations but I’d be a damn liar if I said I wasn’t proud of my younger sister for holding her own!
Submitted by Melissa Y
Hi, my name is Caree and I’m a senior in high school. One weekend, I got off work late (maybe 11 pm or 12 am) and stopped by Kroger, a grocery store, on my way home.
After about 15 minutes of shopping, I realized that I kept seeing the same guy around, everywhere I went. I would turn around and there he would be, staring right at me. When I made eye contact with him, he looked away and acted like he was shopping. So I keep shopping, and this happens again about 3 or 4 more times.
After 10 minutes of shopping around, I see that he has nothing in his shopping cart which I thought was proof: he was NOT shopping, and it was NOT just a coincidence that he was always shopping in the same area as me. He was following me around the freaking store and watching my every move.
This was before I had heard of this site, otherwise I would have walked right up to him and taken a photo of his face. Instead of doing that, I just turned around and looked straight at him. When we made eye contact, he looked away as usual, but eventually would look back my way thinking that I had moved on. I stared at him for about 60 seconds before he finally walked away. I wanted to let him know that I saw him and knew what he was doing. Men like him need to know that they will not get away with it, not with me anyway.
Even though he left me alone after that, I was scared. When I got out of the store I walked to my car quickly with my cell phone and keys in my hand. I was terrified that he was going to follow me out in the parking lot.
I’m not sure what I should have/could have done about the stalker. Telling the Kroger employees seemed useless. Confronting him seemed dangerous. And calling the police? It didn’t seem like he had committed any kind of tangible crime that I could accuse him of. I felt trapped and helpless. And now I feel like all I can do is hope it doesn’t happen again.
Submitted by Caree