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We shouldn’t have to live in fear of going for a simple walk or jog, but many people do. A walk can quickly turn into being sexually harassed ten times in all of twenty minutes. This harassment would not be acceptable if it was done within the walls of a classroom, or a place of business. But for some reason, many people consider it acceptable when it is done from a car or on the street. The victim, always a stranger. Always someone minding their own business. Always a person who simply wants to get their morning exercise done, or reach their destination to buy lunch for themselves. And when they try to recount their experience, they are often told to suck it up, or that it was probably just what they were wearing. Or – perhaps worst of all – that they should take it as a ‘compliment’.
The first time I experienced street harassment, I was only twelve years old. Think about that for a moment. Twelve. Years. Old. I was not yet old enough to understand that I was more developed than most of my other twelve year old friends. I seldom wear skirts now, because I identify as transgender. Back then, I tried to deny my identity and I tried as hard as I could to be normal. To ‘fit in’. I borrowed a mini skirt from my friend who was less curvy than me, and I wore it. I wore it with the matching top. I was more filled out, too, but I never noticed. I didn’t notice until adult men – read that again. Adult. Men. Slowed down long enough to call me a slut. I was twelve. I did not even know what the word meant, but I quickly found out. One would think my refusal to wear skirts has to do with my gender identity, but it actually has more to do with that day.
That was only the beginning of many years of street harassment. I wish I could say it has gotten better, but it has only gotten worse. Within the past year, I have taken up exercising. I want to be healthier. So, I walk daily. Sometimes, for an hour a day. Sometimes, more. It all depends on how busy or not busy my day is. Living where I do, it is hard to avoid walking on the main streets. I am literally harassed – on average – three to five times a day. There are some days where that number is easily ten, depending on how busy traffic is. The harassment ranges from honking (which is mostly just an annoyance – I startle very easily and do not appreciate being ‘honked’ at), to having kisses blown at me (degrading and rude), to having words shouted at me (which I can never hear regardless), to downright obvious harassment (such as being offered a ride by a creepy man at LEAST thirty years my senior [I am only 23, and I am often told I look even younger], to being asked ‘Yo, girl, how old are you?’, to being questioned about my sexuality, and on the worst days even rape threats when I ignore my harasser). I used to just keep walking, and take it in stride.
I realized that doing so just gives them permission to keep doing it. I realized that if I didn’t stand up for myself, I was teaching these men (and occasionally women, too) that it was okay to harass me. That calling me sexy, whore, or making humping gestures at me is ‘okay’. But when I was walking home from college, and a group of at least six men were following me, asking me how old I was… I realized that it is NOT okay. It was terrifying to me. It is annoying, and it makes exercising hard. So, I have started to take a stand. When a friend honked at a pretty woman, I asked him why. He explained that he thought it would make her feel good. When I explained that, often, the only thing it does is scare us or annoy us… he was honestly surprised. Education is imperative. As many of these people don’t really mean harm. Then again, there are many more that do. And when we experience harassment daily, we can never tell the difference.
The other day, I was walking home from the Kangaroo after just filling my Roo cup, and an older man in a white truck honked at me. I ignored him. But when I crossed the highway, I caught him from the corner of my eye turning around to chase me down. This happens a lot, and is downright terrifying. So, I assessed my situation. I had two paths I could take. One down the business area, where there were bound to be people around. One down a hill, with a forest on one side and houses on the other. I took the safer route, the business area. He honked again, stopping. And this time, I stood up for myself. I pulled my cell out, a way of letting him know I wasn’t afraid to call for help if I needed to and I firmly told him to leave me alone. When he drove away, and I kept walking I felt a surge of fear, but this time it was coupled with a surge of pride. We don’t have to put up with street harassment. But as long as people behave as though it is acceptable, people will believe it is.
Also, I am transgender. I wear traditionally men’s clothes most of the time (and only wear women’s clothes maybe once a month). So I dare anyone to tell me ‘It’s probably because of how you dress.’ I dare them.
I worked retail in the inner harbor most of this past year and there was a man that came into the store just about every day. He was well dressed and always accompanied by the same taller man every time. When asked if he was local or just visiting while being cashed out, he refused to say. They bought women’s lingerie very often but sometimes just came in, walked around, and didn’t buy anything.
One day I was over in women’s activewear fixing a display and he came up behind me without his bodyguard guy and started hitting on me, asking for my phone number, asking for my weekly schedule and when I got off. He asked me to call him, and when I refused, he told me he would wait outside for me if I changed my mind.
I reported it to the store’s security but they can’t do anything unless he actually does something and there is no protection for me once I leave the store. He came back to the store frequently after this first incident and would ask other employees if I was there.
I became afraid to go to work, afraid to ride my bike home after work, and concerned that he would find me. To me, it sounded like he was running some sort of sex trade or prostitution ring and that was terrifying that a man could harass me at work and make me afraid for my life.
For a 15 yr old going to the mall is fun – but as I walked from my car to the entrance I noticed a white car following me, an older man said to me “hey sweetheart, you look like a girl I used to date. You’re gorgeous, what’s your name?” Alone and afraid all I said was “I’m not allowed to talk to strangers” he chuckled at me and followed me until I ran into the mall crying. I also reported it to mall security. 8 yrs later I still won’t go to that mall alone and am overly cautious in all parking lots!
Walking to UNM’s main campus down Yale, a man walked up to me, looked me straight up and down and said, “Damn girl, where you from?” all while trying to get close to me.
I avoided him, and walked past without saying a word, and at least was able to keep my head high. It was 10:00 am. On a busy street. With numerous onlookers.
Walking alone at night, trying to get home. Asshole loitering around with his friends whistles at me. A guy–don’t know if it was part of the group or just a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time–starts following me. Managed to get into my house without him seeing me go into the building but feel shaken nevertheless.
This guy came up to me and was like he’s been checking me out from where he was. And he then asks me if I was Japanese or Chinese and I lied and said Japanese and he goes “oh I like doing things with Japanese women, do you wanna know what I do with them” which I completely ignore because of discomfort. Then, he had the guts to say “oh I like your breasts, I mean braces” and left with “you’re thick” along with a smirk!
I live on a busy street in San Jose and cars are always flying by at a fast pace. Across the street is the salon that I frequent, and it is literally a few steps away across four lanes. I normally do not cross the street without using the crosswalk, but there is one day that I felt that I needed to jolt across. I waited for a red convertible Mustang to go by before I crossed the street, but they slowed down and then pulled over. He said, “Hey, don’t you go anywhere with an ass like that!” He then started screaming, “Come back here!!”, over and over. I ran into the salon and told them the man was harassing me.
They called 911 to report the man, as he was still outside looking at the salon while in his car. He stayed there for about 15 minutes waiting. The salon locked all of the doors and everyone was looking at him through the window. He pretended to be looking for something in his car and then finally drove away. What was he planning to do to me? Did he think I was actually going to walk back? I don’t think I have ever been so scared in my life.
One night about 7 years ago. My younger sister, her friend and I were having a late dinner at a Deli in Westwood, Ca. around 11pm. We were sitting in a section where it had about 4-5 tables and it was only us there. Then these two men, I would say in their 30’s, showed up and sat a table counter cross from us. From the moment they sat down, they were making cat calls and whisper sounds to us.
Throughout our dinner, they were talking to us and trying to get our attention, saying things like “come sit on our laps, the food will taste better” or “Come with me, I will show you a good time”. We ignored them or told them to shut up. I’m pretty sure they were drunk or on something because it was persistent. We decided not to tell the waiter, since we were leaving anyways. At this time, we finished with our food and decided to leave quick, because we were a little freaked out by them. We had to walk by their table to leave, because there was no other way out.
My sister walked in front of me and her friend behind me. As we passed, the guy who was making the most comments, decided to grab the wrist of my sister and tried to pull her into him. At that point I reacted and grabbed his wrist to make him let go and he wouldn’t. He stood up and still holding her wrist was gonna push me away. I used my forearm and body weight and pushed him up against the wall with my forearm at his throat, telling him to let her go. All of a sudden the other guy stood up and tried to get me off of him. That guy let go of my sister and I push him again and we ran out of the restaurant.
The servers saw this happen and called the police, but we didn’t know, because we were walking down the street, scared they were going to come after us. After we were about a block away, the cops found us and brought us back to the scene. When we were there, the guy that assaulted my sister was rolling around in the street screaming, crying and waling. By this point we were scared and the police kept asking what happened, beacuse the server only saw me push him against the wall. We had to explain the whole event and even then it was only backed up by some people who were sitting in an area near us.
The guy’s friend kept saying that we attacked them and his friend was only drunk. It was a mess, but the cops took our statements and realized that this guy was on something and was making problems with the cops and we were let go. We ended up leaving the place around 3am. Even though this story was a few years ago, I am still very cautious walking alone in places. I still get those looks and cat calls, but now I either ignore or tell them to shut up. Still freaks me out though. :/
I had to get a 6am bus on my own so I was walking up an empty street though it was light. A guy started to walk beside me and talk to me but in Spanish, I only know a little so I just did the smile and nod and kept walking, he continued to walk beside me and talk but I just continued to ignore him and walk faster. He then took my wrist and tried to pull me across the road, I managed to quickly lose his grip and then sprinted up the road.
Thank you for your work and for this opportunity to share my story.
While in New York, I experienced an inappropriate interaction while with my friend on the subway, in which a man “gave up his seat” for us. Though we had no need to sit down, nor did we event want to, we sat down and just tried to continue going about our conversation. The man spent spent the rest of the ride standing directly over and in front of my friend, whom he moved closer and closer to. All the while he was trying to engage us in conversation, as if that made what he was doing with his body somehow ok. It was a total violation of space and his physical closeness was extremely uncomfortable, offensive, and unwanted.
I was so upset by the whole experience, but wasn’t sure what I could do after the fact. I was upset with myself for not having said more during the interaction, and was at a loss for what could be done differently next time. With such frustration and confusion, I took to writing and composed a poem about the whole experience. I wanted to capture these emotions in the poem and to give myself a way to work through and do something about the interaction.
Until I can find something more, these words are my way of fighting back.
It was on the subway
He was one
And we were two
We were female
And he wasn’t
He gave up his seat
We gave up our choice
His giving felt more forced
The gift was not asked for
Did he give or did he take?
And what was it we received?
We sit, he stands
He stands, we sit
This time of power
He is too close
Evocating lewd gestures
It’s hard to imagine he doesn’t know
Exactly what he is doing
What exactly is he doing?
I listen clearly to his unclear words
Desperate for a clue of intention
He has to know
His rocking body too close, too close
Still he rocks
Still I remain
Silent, frozen, confused, paralyzed
Mind racing ahead
To the silences yet unsaid
I fear myself almost more than him
For if I am to remain silent
On the populated subway
How much more silent
Might I remain
Trying to navigate through the corners of my mind
I who call myself a feminist
Sit in silence
He should know
I shouldn’t have to tell him
He gets closer
He tells her like she doesn’t know
To look at the view
Of the Brooklyn Bridge
While his body
Blocks her view
Of the Brooklyn Bridge
And his words
It isn’t hard to tell
Doesn’t he know?
How much she knows?
Each rock brings him closer
The loudness in my head, spirit, body
Is only matched
By my outward silence
Until finally the subway
Says the words we didn’t
And we leave him