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I’ve had a number of encounters with harassers, which I distinguish from men who just say “hi”, smile, wave or just move on. The first truly terrifying encounter I had was when I was in my twenties and living in a small Northern California town in the Sierra foothills.
Two of my closest girlfriends and I were walking down Mill Street on our way to some ice cream. It was high summer and we were dressed in cutoff jeans and sleeveless shirts. We heard the roar of a car engine, honking, and shouts and looked up to see a trio of young, shirtless men in a convertible with the top down coming up the street toward us, shouting, waving their arms and pointing at us.
“Three!” they yelled, pointing at themselves. “Three!” they repeated, pointing at us. While impressed that they could count so high, we shook our heads in unison and kept walking.
“Wanna go to the river?” they persisted. “We’ve got beers!”
“No thanks!” one of my girlfriends called. “We don’t drink!”
We kept moving and figured they would too. But no. The driver spotted a parking place up the block and his companions shouted, “Stay there! Stay there!” “Come to the river!”
We assured them we did not want to go to the river—shaking our heads and making emphatic gestures that were lost on them. (Maybe they thought we were signaling “no catch”—which was essentially correct, but in the wrong context).
We didn’t stay there, of course. We walked faster and ducked into a clothing store at mid-block. Behind us, the car pulled to the curb with a squeal of tires.
My last glimpse of the guys before I slipped into the shop was of all three jumping out of the car. We scurried to the rear of the store and tried to disappear behind the clothing racks. The guys loped by the front of the shop asking each other “Where did they go? Did they go in there?” They went up the street a few stores, then turned and came back, this time slowing to peer through the window.
My friends and I scooted into a changing room and pulled the curtain closed.
So eager were these guys for our company that they came into the store and asked the clerk if she’d seen three girls come in or walk by. She had seen us, but she shook her head no. “Sorry,” she said.
The guys wandered off at last and we emerged from the changing room only when we had heard their car engine rumble out of earshot.
Several summers later, the same friends and I were at the river for a girls’ day out, lying in the sun at a secluded pool. As we chatted drowsily, we heard a shout from the trail about twenty feet above us.
“Look!” cried a man’s voice. “Bitches! There’s bitches!” I looked up to see several young men in cutoff jeans looking along the trail for a way to get down to our beach.
We didn’t hesitate. We grabbed our shirts and shoes, dove into the river and swam to the opposite side. By the time the bitch hunters had reached the sands, we’d hidden ourselves in the rocks on the opposite bank.
“What do we do if they come after us?” one of my girlfriends asked. There was only one answer we could come up with; each of us picked up a rock.
We were lucky—they didn’t come after us. They didn’t know the river as we did because they were from out of town. I know this because one of them said, in disgust, “We oughta go back to Oakland if it’s gonna be like this.”
Years have passed. Not that long ago, my husband and I were waiting at a Southwest airlines gate for a flight when a group of about four college-aged men in shorts, tank tops and sneakers rambled into the waiting area. When they plopped into seats near where I and my husband and I were standing, all the hair on my body stood on end and I wanted to bolt and run. I was seized with a bizarre, visceral, completely unexpected fight or flight reaction to their presence.
I did not connect this to the first two incidents until I began to write my story down. But they are connected. I am afraid of groups of young, white men to this day.
As an afterthought, it occurs to me to wonder why any man would think a woman would find him attractive when the first thing he says to her or about her is “Look! Bitches!”
I was walking a few blocks to a friend’s house one evening. Immediately a man crosses the street, runs up to me, and asks if I have a man. He walks beside me all the way there, saying he would be my teddy bear and keep me warm at night. I don’t say any thing, because it’s night in the student ghetto. He gives me a hug when we arrive (yuck) and laments that he’ll never see me again because I won’t take his number.
December 1, 2014 I was getting out of my car to go shopping at the strip mall on Airport Blvd in Pensacola. There was a man who was putting his groceries into his car and took notice of me. I could hear him making comments about me as I walked past.
I walked into the shoe store and noticed he walked in behind me. He followed me throughout the store and then walked out. A moment later he walked back in and I left to go to another store. He walked out and began stalking me again. I walked into Marshall’s and immediately ducked behind a spinner rack. He walked in and I saw him looking for me. As he walked further up the aisle, I dashed back out the front door and walked to my car.
I am 5’10” and 55 years old. I have been followed before and I am not afraid to confront a stalker. I was prepared to confront him if needed, but was glad I did not have to.
Running Encounters in Beechview – Part II
Saturday morning I decided to do a run in my neighborhood – Beechview. I left the house around 7am. Heading South on Broadway Avenue, a man (I would guess him in his 60s) gets off the “T” and is walking toward me. As I approach, he asks “How’s that concrete treat your knees?” I respond “they are fine.” As I pass, he turns and begins running with me, asking “Do you mind if I run with you a little while?” I look him up and down (he’s in street clothes, but is wearing some sort of New Balance type shoe) and slightly baffled say “Are you kidding me?” No, he says. “I’d rather you didn’t. This is my time.” Oh, okay, he says I will just follow you for a while. Then I hear his voice trailing off – have a nice day… As I’m heading North by the No. 28 Fire Station, I see a guy walking on the sidewalk and I move over into the street, as we pass, he says to me “Keep on runnin’, little girl.” “Why do you think it’s okay to say that to me?” I ask. “uhh, I was just trying to be encouraging” “It’s not okay”, I respond. I’ve continued running so I hear some unintelligible yelling and then very loudly “F*** YOU! F*** YOU!
So, in case you don’t understand what is wrong with this – a good rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t say it to a male, don’t say it to a female (ESPECIALLY ONE YOU DON’T KNOW). I highly doubt either of those encounters would have happened if I was male.
I was only baffled by the old guy – Sir, I don’t know you, you are in street clothes and I’m trying to exercise. This isn’t social hour. A good morning is appropriate, but keep moving. The other guy, I would guess at 30s – 40s. What you said, could be interpreted as menacing – Keep on Running – like if you don’t I”m going to get you AND calling me a little girl is wrong on every conceivable level. Calling a grown woman whether you know her or not a little girl is sexist and demeaning. My husband was mortified that I spoke up to this second guy, but my argument is if we don’t speak up, how will anyone get the message? I can’t keep my head down and pretend like I didn’t hear it and I’m not going to fake smile at the guy awkwardly like “aw gee thanks”.
So glad to find out that an organization like Hollaback now exists. When I lived in New York, I was followed by men, got cat calls from men in cars and generally harassed on a daily basis. It never occurred to me at the time that it was a form of sexual harassment and in fact, could be dangerous. It is a form of power that some men use over single women. A woman walking alone is an easy target.
After awhile, it makes women afraid to be women. Just going to the grocery store becomes a drama filled occasion. It’s not even about dressing sexy. Women get harassed in just a t-shirt and jeans.
The worse would be when I was groped in a crowd. It’s hard because you really learn not to trust men. Then, you finally meet a good one, like my husband. I’ve always missed my time in New York, but now I remember how hard it can be.
It’s hard to be a single woman in New York. Harassment is never cool. hollaback!
A few years ago I was in a store in the feminine care aisle. There was a guy standing there in front of the brand of pads I wanted for a long time so I went to do my other shopping and then went back to get my pads that I was looking for. He was still there but in a different section of the aisle. I took my pads off the shelf and put them in my basket. As I was walking out of the aisle (which had one exit) he sort of blocked my path and asked if he could “ask some questions” I said no thanks and sort of shuffled to the side to walk around him and he blocked me again. So I said fine ask your question. He proceeded to ask me a series of increasingly personal questions about my love life which I tried not to answer. After about five minutes of this he aggressively asked for my number and I did the old “oh sorry I have a boyfriend” thing. Then he proceeded to give me this lecture about how I should dump my boyfriend for him and all this stuff about how manly he was. I continued telling him I wasn’t interested and eventually he let me out of the isle. I made my purchases and walked back to my dorm feeling quite uncomfortable and shaken up. About a week later I was at my job, the front desk of the building I lived in. And he showed up and kind if hung around the lobby. My next shift he was there and asked if I had dumped my boyfriend yet. He showed up a few times after that and I started asking my friend who lived in the building come pick me up from work (I work late) even though I only lived a few floors above. I was afraid he would corner me in the elevator or stairs or follow me to my room.
I live in one of my university dorms and was leaving for class in the middle of the day. Often, men, never women for some reason, hang around the corner by my building. Normally I don’t experience issues with the ones that are regularly there and have had some good conversations with them. One day there was a man I didn’t recognize standing at the corner. While I was waiting at the light he asked me if I had any change, which I did not as I rarely carry cash or change. When I said no he responded that it was ok, that my beautiful smile made up for it. Which was innocent enough and kind. As the light changed though he then remarked to his friend that “[he] would do [me]” and then commented to me that “[he] would f*** [me] given the chance.” I said nothing and crossed the street to get to my class and hoped that walking away would be enough to end the crude comments. Rather, he followed me for a couple of blocks until I reached my class. I was very glad he didn’t do anything but his remarks sent chills through my body and left me feeling very violated as he followed me to my class.
Well. It’s been a week ago, I started seeing this guy on the street. He kept staring at me until I went inside my house. He wouldn’t even leave his eye off me and my sis. We are teenagers. (13). But he looked like he was in his late 30s. For about 2 days he waited outside of my house and kept staring. I felt soo uncomfortable. Than the 3rd day he waved at me. I thought maybe he thinks I’m someone else. But the most scary part was that my mom was with me. And he still did it. But my mom didn’t noticed. Than again he waved at me and my sis. I wanted to tell mom but I was really scared bcuz I’m from a culture where my parents will think that it’s my fault. Than for another 2 days, he kept staring but I pretended like I don’t even know him and I didn’t even looked at him. Than this day my mom wasn’t with me. It was only me and my sis. So we were really scared. We decided to he late home so maybe he won’t be there. But he was there wondering around our house. So today when me and my sis were entering the house, he through a paper folded at us. I got soo angry and scared. I didn’t think golf anything and I yelled at him but not face to face. I was something like “why the fuck is wrong with you nigga. Leave us alone.” My voice sounded horrible due to nervousness. But that was the first time I ever yelled at a stranger and defended myself. It was like my brain was confidant but my stomach was nervous. I don’t know if he heard me or wht. I told my sis not to touch the letter but she wouldn’t listen to me and she read the letter. It said his phone number and said that ” call me cause I like you” my sis ripped the paper and threw it on the street. But I wish that he is scared and tommarow god protects me. It is mentally disturbing us. I couldn’t sleep these days due to him and I hate it. Plzzz for heaven sake, stop the street harassment.
I am 15 and had a school exchange to Italy. In the first couple days I was in Rome, taking in all the sites. I wanted to walk around by myself when we had time to ourself to shop. I walked quite a while away from where we were allowed to go and since I didn’t know the city well enough I got lost. I stopped at an information centre on one very busy street. The guy helping me said I was very beautiful and he wanted to kiss me and asked me where I live and how long I was in Italy for. I lied. But was very polite because I thought he might get angry and follow me. He even spoke to other people and gave them directions while he told me to wait. He wasn’t giving me directions to where I wanted to go so I said I was alright and began to leave then he gave me directions. He then nodded at someone behind me so I got scared and thought if I left someone would follow me. I left and was very scared, the path he showed me had some dark streets but I began to run when I saw the logo of his information place on the side of a van near me, afraid I ran into stores and asked strangers to show me the way. A very nice american group was going to the same place as me and have me directions. I was so unbelievably scared for my life and I was only 15. It was the worst experience and the way this man made me feel was horrible….
A few months ago I was followed and harassed by a man on the street. He verbally harassed me and did some very displeasing noises while he walked nearby. This went on for a few blocks and I kept telling him to stop, but he wouldn’t. The street was relatively lonely and I felt nervous and very angry. Some people on the street saw what was happening but did nothing; if anything, they looked away. When I finally got to a main road, I saw a policeman and decided to report what was happening. The policeman looked very confused and asked the man what was happening, to which he responded that he was just giving me a compliment. I told him that I had asked him to stop several times and that sexual harassment was a crime. The policeman kept doing nothing; he just asked for the man’s ID. I was feeling really angry and impotent, so I caught a bus to go home. When I looked outside the bus window, I saw the policeman letting my harasser go. I felt even worst than before, I was frustrated and a part of me felt that what I had done was wrong.
When I told my friends about wat happened they tried to be comprehensive but some of them made me feel like I had overreacted. They made me feel guilty and exaggerated.
A few days later I was walking on the same street (It was very near to my workplace), and I ran into the same man. He recognized me and started calling me names and saying “report me again bitch”. He insulted me from a distance and shouted really demeaning and hurtful things at me, such as “I will fuck you, whore”. I tried to defend myself but got really scared that he would hurt me physically, so I tried to walk away fast. Two men were going by while this happened and didn’t to anything, they just stood by and looked down, although this man was clearly threatening me. I told them that they could have done something to help me and they just ignored me. After this happened I felt really helpless, depressed, nervous, angry and scared. I cried all my way home, thinking that I should never have reported this man; If I had walked by and ignored him nothing would have happened. I knew, rationally, that I hadn´t done anything wrong, but I felt so guilty and foolish. For the next few days I felt terrified to walk to work and run into the man again. Still, sometimes when I walk through this area I try to make myself unnoticed and I feel really nervous. I know that I did the right thing, but I was silenced and now I look dow when I walk near there. And this makes me so angry. Public harassment is real, it happens almost daily, it is hurtful, and it needs to stop.