Appalachian Ohio, Athens GA, Atlanta, Berkeley, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Columbia MO, Des Moines, Durham & Chapel Hill, Fredericksburgh VA, Houston, Los Angeles, Muncie IN, New York City, NYU, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Richmond VA, San Francisco, Tucson, Twin Cities
By Robyn Shepherd, ACLU
Last month, the ACLU’s Louise Melling blogged about how street harassment shames and humiliates women, and is underreported because of the stigma attached to it. While that blog was making the editing rounds here at the office, I shared my own story of how I dealt with a particularly obnoxious harasser, and my esteemed colleagues suggested I share it. Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, after all, here it is. And there’s gonna be swearing. I’m really sorry in advance (Mom).
I was walking to work last April, listening to a friend’s CD and not thinking of much besides that I was a little late to work, and really ought to hustle to make my train. A dude passed me as I walked, and I didn’t think much of that either.
All of a sudden…WHAM! Dude WALLOPED me on the backside and ran off.
No one saw it happen. But the gentle denizens of the Upper East Side sure knewsomething happened, because I let out an unholy yell and a good, throaty “FUCK YOU!!” I turned to see the dude hustling away in his blue and tan jacket and tan backpack.
I hesitated a moment. Did that really just happen? What should I do? Just go on with my day? I’m not sure I want to do that. And I’m pretty sure that if I just let this go, and act like it’s no big deal, or it was “just a smack on the ass,” I’m gonna feel pretty rotten about it for a long time to come. And my butt was really sore. He really went for it.
So I ran after the dude.
It’s possible this guy was crazy. This was something I needed to determine, and also I wanted to get a description, since by this point I had decided that if I was going to be late to work pursuing this mofo, I was damn well gonna call the police. I caught up to him as he was going into the Citibank.
“Hey asshole!” He looked up. He was about 20. Clean-cut. Like he was on his way to school. He did not look crazy. I think he was surprised. I think he figured the five-foot-tall redhead in the sundress and Mary Janes would have just said “Oh my stars!” and scampered away. He does not know this five-foot-tall redhead.
“You think that shit is funny? You like hitting women, huh? You think that’s the correct way to act? Whatsamatterwityou?” All of a sudden, I was Joe Pesci. I swear a lot when I’m nervous. It’s a terrible habit. Perhaps you’ve caught on.
“Ma’am I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You know goddamn well what I’m talking about. YOU DON’T HIT WOMEN, ASSHOLE.” At this point I was screaming into the bank. The whole lobby was looking at me.
Dude got in my face. And this is where it gets kind of hilarious. “How dare you disrespect me in public?” he said. Oh. My. God. He. Did. Not. “I mean, call the police or something, but don’t embarrass me like that. Fuck you.”
It was now clear I was not necessarily dealing with a lunatic. But I was dealing with a moron.
“Good idea, buddy. I WILL call the police.” I called 911 and told them about the incident and the coordinates.
While I was on the phone he got in my face again. “Fuck you, bitch.”
Me: “Fuck ME? Fuck YOU!!!…
Me (to operator): “I’m sorry, ma’am it’s just he’s antagonizing me.”
Him: “You calling the police?”
Me: “Goddamn right I am.”
Him: “Fine. Fuck the police. Fuck you.”
Me: “Tell ‘em so yourself!”
He started walking away after that. The 911 lady advised me to stay put. Good call. I figured I had enough of him without backup. The police came a few minutes later, and I told them the story. I told them I knew they dealt with bigger things than this. But if it doesn’t get reported, it will keep happening. And maybe we can scare this dude enough that that will be one less guy hitting women in the street. The cops had me ride around in the car with them to see if we could find them. (Incidentally, those squad cars? Absolutely no legroom to speak of. In case you ever need extra incentive to not get arrested. Not comfy.)
We couldn’t find him, but the cops (there were four of them by the end of this) took my statement and contact info. They commended me on my description. Which is good, as that validates a lot of Law and Order viewing.
I’m realistic. I knew they were never going to arrest this guy. But here’s the thing, and the point to this whole long, profane story. I know there are a lot of people who think it wasn’t that big a deal. But the truth of the matter is, what this guy did was sexual assault. “Forcible touching and harassment,” if you want to get specific.
Sexual assault doesn’t always necessarily mean something as horrible as rape. And too often street harassment is unreported, and douchebags like this think they can get away with it because the girl is gonna be too embarrassed or too meek to do anything about it. Or they think it’s “just a slap on the ass.” And that’s not right, you guys. I don’t know how other women feel about their posteriors, but you don’t very well get to smack the hell out of it willy-nilly because you feel entitled to do so. There will be repercussions.
To the NYPD’s credit, they did follow up, and the detective told me that if I really wanted to press charges, she would help me do that, even if it meant looking through a lot of surveillance tape and looking at lineups and all that stuff. I opted not to, figuring that they had this guy’s description, and if he did it again, he’d be in a lot of trouble. But something tells me he’s not going to. I think I scared him. Or as the detective said, “So you ran up and confronted him and screamed at him in a bank.”
I know what happened to me could have been a lot, lot worse. But someone doesn’t have to be raped to be humiliated, violated and hurt. Sometimes, all it takes is a smack on the ass.
This was the response a man gave to me on a Paris metro car, after I shouted at him, “Why are you bothering me?” For the past several minutes, he’d made sure to stand too close to me, causing me to move away from him twice, and put his hand on top of mine, while holding the support pole in the middle of the car. All threatening behavior ~ claiming space, pushing my boundaries, seeing how far he could go. I remember looking around, but no one else was in the car to see what was happening. It made me so angry and resentful to think that I would have to change cars and essentially run away from this creep, but I did.
At the time, I was just twenty years old, living abroad for my junior year in college. I had come from the protected and respectful environment of my college campus, Sarah Lawrence, and wasn’t used to this type of treatment at all.
However, it was his WORDS, perhaps even more than his actions that shocked the hell out of me. I’m embarrassed to say that instead of instantly recognizing his statement for what it was ~ a dangerous manipulation ~ I immediately took stock of what I was wearing, which I still remember to this day: black opaque stockings, black high-heeled Mary Janes, a black turtleneck with a cream-striped wool skirt with attached suspenders that my grandmother had made for me. It was above-the-knee, but I thought the sensibility was more cute than come-hither.
Now admit it, did you find yourself, even for just a second, evaluating the modesty of my outfit, even if it was to agree with me about the “un-sexiness” of it? If so, you are not alone, because it’s the tendency of every human being to wonder how WE could have controlled circumstances better, how WE could be less vulnerable to attack, and of course, to ask ourselves why WE were the unlucky target of a predator.
We, We, We, indeed.
We are assaulted in the street because we are women, not because we are “packaged” like women. Assault and harassment are about domination, not about sexual attraction, but it’s still so easy to fall into internalizing responsibility for an attack. One of the reasons that it’s so hard to get beyond this, is the fact that so many powerful segments of society still believe a woman can defend herself merely by putting on the “right” piece of clothing when she walks out the door.
Just this February, a member of the Toronto police force was censured for making the comment to Osgoode Hall Law School students that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Yes, he really went there. Let’s take yet another ride on the victim-blaming carousel. This did not occur in some backwater, but on the campus of a major metropolitan center which had been the scene of violent sexual attacks in recent years.
Mistreating people, then informing them that it’s their fault are the actions of an abuser. This manipulation is designed to cause guilt, shame, and a sense of responsibility in the victim. If there are even small pockets of law enforcement that still feel the way this officer did, then we’ve got an entirely new class of abusers to deal with ~ the second tier, so to speak, which we’ve got to educate and at the same time, mentally steel ourselves against, if we are victims. This is imperative, because it’s clear that predators are just one link in the cycle of violence against women.
What will it take for us to wake up, to stop shifting responsibility away from predators? Perhaps a sense of empathy for others, and the certain knowledge that self-expression in the form of dress can never be an acceptable excuse to victimize someone, not in a truly free society.
Peace and Balance,
By LAUREN ZINK
“…we need to highlight the fact that most men are not violent or abusive in their relationships. To these men I would say — speak out. Let it be known among your peers that you do not support or condone abuse. This is important, because men who use violence in their relationships often assume that the men they know do too. We need to change that belief system, and it’s other men who can most effectively get that message across. In some of the gang rapes we have heard about, many people knew what was happening, but chose not to intervene or get help. I know that it is not easy for men to step forward, but it can make a real difference.” – Lynn Rosenthal, first-ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women
Hollaback Atlanta’s Lauren Zink discusses the importance of male allies and responsible bystanders in the movement to end sexual violence: Let’s Hear it For the Boys
BY CAITLIN O’DONNELL
cross posted from The Times-Delphic
I’m not sure exactly how it became socially acceptable to honk and catcall at girls when you, see us walking around Des Moines, but I assure you it doesn’t turn us on. I promise I’m not jogging so that you can creepily watch me, and these Target gym shorts I’m wearing are not for your benefit.
Here are a few things that girls don’t think when you honk and/or catcall at them:
That boy must be hot and well-endowed.
Oh baby, I love being objectified.
Yes, in fact, I do want to get in your car with you.
Let me just start by informing you that I am not even a little bit attractive when I am jogging. I promise there is nothing about my appearance that could possibly entice you to honk at me. And if I’m wearing high heels and a skirt that goes up to Tahiti, it’s still creepy and misogynistic when you honk at me—I promise.
What exactly do you expect to come of your honking/objectifying slur encounter? I have no idea who you are, and since you’ve now insinuated that I’m a veritable piece of meat, I really don’t want to find out. I promise no level of “Hey girl, what you doing tonight?” will make me want to get into the back of your Corolla.
It does not make me feel excited that I’ve finally caught your attention, which I was so seeking, because I am not seeking your attention. Also, those girls walking a block ahead of me? They don’t want it either. Really. And when my friend flips you off and I yell, “hell, yeah, sexism!” this is not an invitation for you to come back and say “hi.”
When you honk and catcall at us, it may seem like innocent flirting to you. Perhaps you think you flatter us with your witty attention, or you’re showing off for the charming boys also residing in your car. I like to think that you honk because you’re compensating for something. Or maybe you’re chastising me for being a woman jogging at night, a reminder that the streets are not safe for us poor, fragile little girls. Because here’s what it feels like when you call out to me: a threat.
This is what actually goes through my head when you honk: What if he turns around and comes after me? Why does he automatically think he can intimidate and objectify me? Is ‘idiot’ contagious?
When you honk and yell demeaning things as I pass your car or house, it does not make me want to get to know you better. It actually makes me want to slap you.
This street is not yours and neither is any part of me you can see while I walk down University Avenue. It’s ridiculous that you can generally walk around without fear of harassment from passing cars, but for women, it’s expected that we suck it up and take it in stride every time we leave a building.
Weirdly enough, I have the right to walk somewhere without being called out to, honked at or leered at, no matter what time of day or type of attire, and just because you can’t meet girls in a normal context does not make it OK for you to be a jerk. Leave me alone, and take your sexist, drunken, creepy friends with you.
Want to speak up about street harassment and have your writing published on a website visited by thousands of people a year? Hollaback! is seeking submissions for our first ever essay contest! Winners will have their essays published in Sistersong’s “Collective Voices” and posted under the “resources” section of the site.
The subject of the essay contest is “Academic Discourse and Street Harassment: Where are we now, and where can we go from here?”
In order to answer this question, we are looking for students in all academic disciplines: if you’re a future law student, write us an essay on the legal issues pertaining to street harassment, the gaps in legislative protection and the possibilities for legal change. If you’re into feminist theory, write to us about how feminist movements have addressed this issue. If you’re interested in international affairs, tell us how different countries have challenged this issue. If you’re into math, submit a statistical analysis.
Any college or graduate students are eligible. The best articles will be published on the ihollaback.org website this summer, and will be judged on the basis of academic rigor, clarity, writing style, and their potential to advance the field of street harassment. Financial or other forms of compensation will not be provided, but you can rest assured that your efforts will make the world safer for everyone.
To be eligible, you must:
1) Be a currently enrolled college or graduate student.
2) Submit an unpublished academic work of 2000-6000 words on the topic provided.
3) Submit by August 1, 2011.
Please submit all essays to email@example.com.
Entrees will be judged on a scale of 1-10 based on four criteria:
1) Writing skill: including clarity, articulation of arguments, etc.
a. Is the writing clear? Are the arguments presented in a straightforward and logical way?
2) Writing style:
a. Is the writing compelling? Does it engage the reader? Is the writing stylistic and imaginative?
3) Impact: The degree to which the essay contributes something new to the field in which the topic is situated.
a. Does the essay describe the ways in which it presents a unique contribution? Does the author situation him/herself in the context of current academic debates on the subject?
4) Relevance of topic and presentation: Does this topic matter to the work of hollaback?
a. Is there a need for the production of information on this topic at this time? Is it topical, relevant to the work of the movement to end street harassment? Does the article generate new knowledge? Is the information presented in a way that will have impact? (ie. are there analysis or guidelines or documentation that will be useful in furthering the work of an advocacy organization like hollaback, etc)
I am studying in Florence, Italy, for my final semester of college, and I was thrilled at the prospect of getting out of my boring North Carolina town and into a place renowned for culture and fashion. Florence is amazing, but the men feel that they can stop and gape at you, or say all kinds of offensive things, and it’s part of their “culture.” A simple “ciao bella” as I pass by does not offend me–that is the kind of culture that is allowed, that is an appreciation of beauty; unfortunately it is used as a shield to justify more lewd statements.
I was walking home last week, and at an intersection waited for the light to change. A guy next to me eyed me, and then starting talking to me; I ignored him, which was easier since I was listening to my ipod, but he would not give up. From that intersection he followed me over four blocks to my apartment, trying to speak to me the whole time. He was so thick-headed that I thought it better not to turn and say anything, but to get away as quickly as possible; the language barrier also would have made it difficult. I made it home and took great pleasure in slamming the door in his face. What shocks me, though, is that all of the streets I walked were full of people, and it was 1 o clock in the afternoon, and no one did or said anything.
I frequently wear heels and dresses, but that DOES NOT mean that I am asking for it, and I dress solely for myself, not for men. This site has inspired me and I hope to admonish my next harasser, who I am sure I will encounter at some point tomorrow.
New Yorkers United Against Sexual Violence is campaigning to ensure funding for sexual violence prevention and treatment programs. Please sign this petition to help the all of the programs throughout NYC keep working toward a city free of sexual violence.
From their website:
Sexual violence affects all New Yorkers, regardless of class, race, gender expression, sexual orientation or age. It is estimated that in a city of 8 million residents, that over 1.2 million women and 200,000 men have been sexually assaulted in their life. Anti-sexual violence programs work tirelessly to help survivors heal and to develop safer communities.
In 2011, organizations doing crucial anti-sexual violence work in New York City are woefully underfunded. The limited funding available to these organizations makes victims of sexual violence in New York City a truly underserved population. We urge the City Council to stand with us against sexual violence and support the city wide Sexual Assault Initiative for $720,000 in the 2012 budget.
Meet Lauren Alston, the Rocker fighting street harassment in Alberta, Canada.
Why do you HOLLA? I HOLLA because I am more than just body parts, because I’m not on this planet to please someone’s eyes, and so that street harassment doesn’t become accepted as part of what we get for walking down the street.
What’s your signature Hollaback? Probably more of a disgusted facial expression. What I say depends on the situation, but I like: “It’s sad how you guys still haven’t figured out that it doesn’t work!”
What’s your craft? Finishing my Science degree Specializing in Psychology at the University of Alberta. My goal is to pursue a career in Neuropsychology.
HOLLAfact about your city: Edmonton, the capital city of Alberta, is Canada´s Festival City, hosting over 30 festivals every year!
What was your first experience with street harassment? Getting called “hey sexy” by some random man when I was about 12 or 13. At the time I was uncomfortable. It’s disgusting how I was even viewed as a sexual object since I was still a kid.
Define your style: It honestly depends on my mood. There usually is a little rocker thread somewhere I guess
What do you collect? Music, textbooks, beanie babies (woo TY originals!), wish I had more graphic novels…
Say you’re Queen for the day. What would you do to end street harassment? That’s a good question. It is tough because I think the biggest issue with street harassment is that it is ingrained in our society. It is something so ubiquitous that it has become accepted and often unattended to. It is a slow process when attempting to change the culture of a society so I´m not sure what I would do in only one day…
If you could leave the world one piece of advice, what would it be? Anything worth anything is hard work.
In the year 2020, street harassment … is a widely discussed issue and has been addressed by the government!
On Thursday, I had planned to go to a cheap taco place, go meet up with friends for dessert at Junior’s, and have an enjoyable day.
This group of teens has said things to me on and off in my area for a year and a half. I’ve tried everything – calling 311, calling the local precinct, attempting to reason with the ringleader after separating him from his friend, calling the local precinct, videotaping an incident, and calling the precinct a third time.
When I saw a group of young men out, I put my point and shoot in video mode and turned it on in my bag. When one of them yelled to me, I pulled the camera out and got a shot at their faces. They taunted me more, and I was set to walk away and bring my videos to the precinct the next day, though lord knows bringing anything sexual to the police is a gamble. One of them pulled down his pants and showed me his (surprisingly hairless) ass, to which I yelled without thinking “OH HELL NO, I’M FROM BROOKLYN, YOU BETTER KILL ME OR LEAVE ME ALONE.” One of them threw his cigarette at me, and said, “You better leave before we decide to kill you.”
I called 911 this time, and the officers tried to be nice, but they were too slow to respond, and the butt-flasher and cigarette-thrower had gone. Their friend got a summons for being aggressive and spitting, but that doesn’t exactly help.
Jesus fucking Christ, I just wanted a taco. Whenever a man on the street says something too vile or personal to ignore, I get this intense adrenaline rush that would probably enable me to pick a car up off my foot. It’s really uncomfortable – my heart starts beating so fast, I shake slightly, and I’m just so angry I can’t think straight. How dare someone say that to me, treat me like I’m public property because I’m a woman, and truly believe they are entitled to my time, my response, their satisfaction. I shouldn’t need to feel prepared to die to run errands in my neighborhood in broad daylight. I’d rather die than live in fear, but I wish I didn’t even have to think that way.
I know I didn’t handle this in the best way possible, but it isn’t my job to respond well to groups of men who intimidate me – I didn’t choose to be their target. They were wrong to target me.
Everyone I told this story to has said I’m so brave, but I couldn’t leave the house on Friday because I felt so fatigued after all of that adrenaline the day before. I went out with my boyfriend on Saturday, but I’m having a panic attack over the thought of going outside alone today, even if I avoid the area. If it’s not these guys, it will be others, and if it’s not today, it will be this week. I’m afraid of what I’ll have to do next time, especially if the police respond so slowly. I’m afraid of dealing with being treated like public property for the rest of my life, no matter how I carry myself or respond. I’m afraid of what I’ll have to do next time to survive, and what that’s going to do to me.
This story happened quite some time ago, but when I think of stories apropos to Hollaback, it is these that jump out at me:
Three summers ago, I was living in Brooklyn with my boyfriend at the time. I am from a fairly small town; I’d certainly encountered my fair share of street harassment there, but nothing compared to the huge volume I encountered every day in NY during my commute to work. I would complain about it to my boyfriend and he would brush it aside with comments like, “well, you’re hot, baby,” and, “that’s just the city.” One day, on the way to work, a man I walked past growled, “I would ride that.” I told my boyfriend about it, and he turned it around later that day and used it as a joke, yelling it to me out the window of a car when his friend picked him up.
That same friend of his and I got into an argument another day about street harassment. He said that the catcalls, etc. were compliments and I shouldn’t feel threatened or stereotyped. “Being hot is not a BAD stereotype,” he informed me. “I’m Puerto Rican, and if someone yelled at me, ‘hey, you must play really great baseball,’ I would say, ‘thank you, yes I do.’” My boyfriend thought this was hilarious.
I should note that the boyfriend was NOT an asshole or a bad boyfriend or in any way abusive to me or disrespectful of me otherwise. He was and still is a caring kind and smart person who I genuinely respect. I would say the same of his friend. But they could not understand the feeling of violation that came with street harassment, and in not understanding, they invalidated the anger and fright and disgust I felt on a DAILY BASIS. To them, that was simply New York, and it was a part of the city that came along with all the rest of it. And who, after all, was I to try and question the norms of a city that wasn’t my own? I just had to learn, like all the rest of the women there, to deal with it.
I did learn to deal with it. The sexual slurs rolled off me like water by the end of my summer there. Or so I told myself. But then came one morning in August, by which point I felt myself much better suited to the city (I could not only navigate the trains, I could give directions). I was headed to work at about 7 AM, walking to the F train on Second Ave. The LES in the mornings is a very different place than the LES at night; rather than loud pretty twenty-somethings, the streets are filled only with the homeless who slept there the night before. I was walking past many groups of homeless men and was otherwise entirely alone on the street. Then I saw one homeless guy lumbering towards me. Here we go, I thought, preparing myself for an unpleasant encounter, kicking myself for never having bought the pepper spray I’d promised my mom I’d get back in June. The man got to about a foot in front of me, raised his head, looked me right in the face, and said, “Well at least somebody’s beautiful this morning, and it sure ain’t me!” He laughed, and I laughed from relief, and he went on his way, wishing me a nice day. I laughed at myself the whole day, thinking how paranoid I’d been and how prejudiced it was for me to assume that a homeless guy was inevitably going to harass me. The thing this made me realize, though, is that my prejudice was borne of a larger fear. The silence around street harassment DOES contribute to prejudice, and it contributes, too, to an overall feeling of worry, shame, and fear that had me walking to work in a paranoid state. And though the man did comment on my appearance, I was GRATEFUL for it because I had been so sure that what was coming would be explicit or a threat.
Looking back on this time now, I realize I was deeply misinformed and unsure in regard to street harassment. I am moving back to New York in a couple of months, and thanks in part to Hollaback, I am doing so with more confidence and feelings of empowerment than I otherwise may have. Had I known about this site three years ago, that summer could have been more golden than it was.