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My friend and I (females) were walking home around 1am on Main Street. We were walking behind a man who was following two girls. How do I know he was following them? He was walking too close to them for comfort, the girls were looking behind them at the man frequently while walking very fast, and when they started crossing the street he did the exact same thing. They girls noticed, so they came back to the original side where my friend and I were. He disappeared into the neighborhood.
I was 12 or 13 years old shopping downtown and not that it matters but I was wearing jeans and a t shirt. Anyway next thing I see is a guy walking towards me with this creepy deep look in his eyes and says to me “I will have sex with you!” I just kept walking but felt uncomfortable for the rest of the day. This was my first form of harassment in my life. The worst part is I felt like it was my fault, I was apologetic for walking alone down the street.
I was walking along the road on a Sunday morning with an elderly home, school and supermarket beside it. This small, white car slowed down beside me with it’s windows rolled down and the young driver inside wasn’t wearing any pants. He was masturbating and flashed his erected penis and smiled at me at the same time. I looked at him, wasn’t shocked at all( I don’t know why), looked away and kept walking. He drove back from the roundabout and smiled at me from the opposite direction of the road. This happened in Lucerne, Switzerland.
A year ago last September I was on a freshers night out and I kissed a guy a little older than me on the dance floor. I went to the toilets on my own, he followed me into the toilets and pushed me into a cubicle and locked the door behind him. He started trying to kiss me and tried touching me. I remember crying and women comforting me in. This happened in Pop world night club in Swansea, Wales.
I was working a small event at a park registering people to vote, and our local football grizzly bear mascot Monte slapped my butt. Because I was working I didn’t say anything, considering the fact that my job was to appeal to those at the event. I wish I did though. A mask is not an excuse for assault!
I always wanted to be the progressive man— strong enough to open all of the pickle jars yet sensitive enough to cry during Toy’s Story 3. I joined the Men against Patriarchy group on my college campus, attended panels about the experiences of women, was one of two men in my Feminist Psychology of Women class, and wrote my senior thesis on the destructive properties of Black heterosexual masculinity in American society. By any definition, I was on track to become an ally, or at least a man that feminists love.
However, social change cannot occur without action. Even though I have attended panel and read books, I have not consistently used my power to support the equity of women. I have sat silently while witnessing sexual assault in public in the name of sustaining the code of heterosexual men. Where do I even start? Before chaining myself to abortion clinics or fighting suspected aggressors on the street, I needed to identify how I contribute to our patriarchy.
Around this time of introspection, the infamous “10 hours walking around NYC as a woman” captured the attention of millions. Women effectively carved space for productive dialogue by sharing their personal encounters with street harassment. Although the video has its flaws—it ignored the racial and socioeconomic implications of framing white women as the victim and lower class men of color as the perpetrator—it illuminated a stark contrast between my experience and those of millions of women interacting with public space in New York City [NYC]. It further proved that headphones, novels, cellphones, “bitch faces”, and even significant others are no match for the male need to express admiration for physical beauty. I am guilty of this as well, constantly thinking of clever ways to interrupt the morning commute of attractive women across NYC.
Recognizing my participation, I wanted to reverse my Pavlovian response to seeing a “beautiful” woman; how could I stop salivating long enough to notice that women are more than their beauty? Brainstorming with a close friend about this problem, I suggested doing a social experiment, in which I would document how often I referenced or thought about the physical appearance of women for seven days. She pushed back, suggesting that I make it public and attach a financial stipulation. Together, we transformed this desire to change into a tangible goal.
For one month, I would track any thoughts or references about a woman’s physical appearance, donating $1 to an organization fighting against the effects of street harassment and violence. For accountability, I created a mobile spreadsheet for consistent tracking, enlisted several friends to check on me, and announced the challenge to my Facebook friends. Instead of growing my mustache for Movember, I decided to spend my month examining a large part of my masculine identity and checking my male privilege. November felt like the longest month of my life. From post-Halloween photos, cologne advertisements, alcohol commercials, food commercials, music videos, book covers, bartenders, cashiers, mothers, daughters; I found myself throwing money away. I second-guessed every word to make sure I created genderless conversations. Although difficult, it made me realize the importance of preserving another person’s humanity. Everyone is fighting for acceptance based on his/her character rather than physical appearance. It made me work harder to connect with and learn about the values of others. It made me seek out the experiences and personal stories about harassment and the concept of beauty. At the end of the month, I had made 95 references or thoughts. I decided to round up to 100 and split the money between Safe Horizon, Collective Action for Safe Spaces, and Hollaback!, given each organization’s role in supporting survivors of sexual harassment and assault.
Even though the month is over and the financial stipulations are gone, this work is not done. Although my eyes have been opened recently, I know that women have been grappling with these concepts for centuries. As a man, it is time for me to start listening and to stand behind those who have been on the front line all along.
As you finish reading this post, know that this challenge is for you. It is everyone’s duty to assess his/her participation in the system. This challenge may not be as trendy as ice water buckets, but know that the consequences are just as jarring. If we do not call for change, the rights and safety of women will continue to depend on the benevolence of a man.
New York City, NY (15th December, 2014) – Two years ago, subway passenger Jasheem Smiley watched a man enter the subway, sit down next to a sleeping woman, put his hand up her skirt, and assault her. Smiley told The Gothamist “…When he started touching her that’s when I turned my camera on. My jaw dropped. I had never seen anything like this before.” The film went viral, however, despite the virality of the story, the woman in the video remained anonymous, until now. Today Elisa Lopez is coming forward with this video (also embedded below) telling her side of the story.
Lopez says, “My goal is to bring attention to how dangerous it is to be a bystander. I just want to tell my side of the story because all anyone saw was a drunken-skirt-wearing-Latina who ‘shouldn’t sleep on the train.’ I was a human being that was violated and no one bothered to intervene.”
The perpetrator is still at large, but today, Lopez has broken her silence and come forward with her account. She shares her story not only of what it was like to come to terms with her assault, but to have to contend with the eruption of media coverage that resulted in Smiley releasing his recording. Lopez didn’t know she had been assaulted until she saw the media explosion over the recording.
Lopez concludes the video to thank “anyone who has ever told their story because it gave me the strength to tell mine.” Hollaback!, the anti-street harassment organization mentioned at the end of the video, has collected over 8,000 stories of street harassment since their launch in 2005. Hollaback! has been working with Lopez over the past six months.
Emily May, executive director of Hollaback!, says, “What Elisa has done today in sharing her story is so powerful. We hear her, we believe her, and we are working alongside her to stand up to the harassment and assault so many New Yorkers face on a daily basis. While Elisa’s story is shocking, it is not unique. We all need to take a stand against street harassment and assault and work to make our streets safer for everyone.”
If you recognize Lopez’s assaulter, please contact Crimestoppers at 1-800-577-tips.
Elisa, thank you for your courage in coming forward to share your story. Hollaback Vegas supports you!
You can watch Elisa’s video below. **Trigger Warning** Sexual Assault
First and foremost, thank you for your continued support of Hollaback!. As some of you now may be aware, we have been the object of some negative press and comments on social media regarding the recent street harassment video by Rob Bliss Creative. When the video was released, we doubted more than 10,000 people would watch it. We never imagined that it would be viewed more than 32 million times.
Given your passionate and dedicated support of Hollaback!, we wanted to inform you how we are directly responding to the accusations of racial and class bias.
Last Thursday, we issued a statement that makes our position clear: Hollaback! understands that harassment is a broad problem committed by a broad spectrum of individuals across lines of race, location and class. We know from the 8,000 stories we’ve collected on ihollaback.org that there is no single profile for a harasser, and harassment comes in many different forms. We are deeply invested in a movement that is multiracial, gender inclusive and incorporates place-based leadership specific to each locale. Racial, gender, and class politics is a core part of our work. While we did not create this video, we did allow our name to be used at the end of it. We agree wholeheartedly that the video should have done a better job of representing our understanding of street harassment and we take full responsibility for that. I’m deeply sorry.
What we also want to say is: We’re listening. Hollaback! is a small but determined and diverse organization, and we’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of feedback we’ve gotten. This video, created and edited pro-bono by Rob Bliss Creative, has taught us an important lesson. Although we appreciate Rob’s support, which has helped garner over $10k in donations from new donors, we are committed to continuing to show the complete, overall picture.
We are using the door opened by this conversation to expose the harassment faced by women of color and LGBTQ folks that too often is ignored by the mainstream media. That’s why we’re using the money raised to create our own video series — with the first one currently under development and scheduled to release within the next two weeks. We’re also working to create clearer messaging, respond to specific news articles, work with partners to write an Op-Ed, showcase thousands more stories through our global research study with Cornell University, and start an open and transparent dialogue with the public to voice opinions and concerns.
We are leveraging this opportunity to bring greater attention to our driving mission: giving you the power to end street harassment.
Again, thank you for believing in us, being a part of this vital dialogue, and supporting Hollaback! as we continue and extend our mission. We welcome your thoughts and suggestions as we move forward.
Executive Director, Hollaback!
How did this PSA come about?
In August 2014, Rob Bliss of Rob Bliss Creative reached out to Hollaback! to partner on a PSA highlighting the impact of street harassment. He was inspired by his girlfriend — who gets street harassed all the time — and Shoshana B. Roberts volunteered to be the subject of his PSA. For 10 hours, Rob walked in front of Shoshana with a camera in his backpack, while Shoshana walked silently with two mics in her hands.
As part of Rob’s agreement with Hollaback!, Rob had creative control over the PSA and owns it with unlimited usage rights for Hollaback!. Hollaback! is grateful for Rob and Shoshana’s dedication to this issue, and for their volunteer service.
What is street harassment?
Street harassment is a form of sexual harassment that takes place in public spaces. It exists on a spectrum including “catcalling” or verbal harassment, stalking, groping, public masturbation, and assault. At its core is a power dynamic that constantly reminds historically subordinated groups (women and LGBTQ folks, for example) of their vulnerability to assault in public spaces. Further, it reinforces the ubiquitous sexual objectification of these groups in everyday life. Street harassment can be sexist, racist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist, sizeist and/or classist. It is an expression of the interlocking and overlapping oppressions we face and it functions as a means to silence our voices and “keep us in our place.” At Hollaback!, we believe that what specifically counts as street harassment is determined by those who experience it. If you’ve experienced street harassment, we’ve got your back!
Is Shoshana’s experience unique?
The experience of street harassment is different for everyone. Street harassment disproportionately impacts women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and young people. Although the degree to which Shoshana gets harassed is shocking — the reality is that the harassment that people of color and LGBTQ individuals face is oftentimes more severe and more likely to escalate into violence. These forms of harassment are not just sexist — but also racist and homophobic in nature.
For more information on how harassment impacts people different, please read our guide on street harassment and identity called #harassmentis.
Does street harassment only happen in NYC?
Street harassment happens everywhere, although our maps indicate that population density may be a factor for it. If you think about it, this makes sense: if one out of every fifty guys you pass is going to harass you, you’ll be far more likely to experience street harassment on Wall Street than in a Walmart parking lot.
Hollaback! has 79 sites in 26 countries around the world, from Alberta, Canada to Delhi, India. Every site is working to end street harassment in their communities and support individuals who share their stories of harassment. You can check out their stories (and provide support) here.
Is Street Harassment a Cultural Thing?
Like all forms of gender-based violence, street harassers fall evenly across lines of race and class. It is a longstanding myth that street harassment is a “cultural” thing, perpetrated mostly by men of color. We believe that street harassment is a “cultural” thing in the sense that it emerges from a culture of sexism — and unfortunately — that is everyone’s culture.
It’s important to keep in mind that is this video only captures verbal harassment, and Rob and Shoshana can attest to the harassment overall falling evenly along race and class lines. While filming, Shoshana noted, “I’m harassed when I smile and I’m harassed when I don’t. I’m harassed by white men, black men, latino men. Not a day goes by when I don’t experience this.”
How do I get involved?
Share this message with your friends and donate. We can’t end this alone.