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In August of 2011, my city held a “clean commuting challenge” to encourage people to walk, bike, carpool, etc. to work. Having recently moved from a city where walking was very much a part of my lifestyle, I was excited for the opportunity to get into the habit again — exercise, fresh air, saving my gas money. So all week long, I walked the one mile each way to and from work. And I felt great.
But on Friday, everything changed.
I was about a third of the way home when I crossed the railroad tracks, and a young man came out of the barbershop nearby. He watched me pass, whistled, and said something derogatory. I ignored him and kept walking, as I always did in such instances. But this time was different. This time, he followed me, and continued to “talk” to me, with increasingly angry comments. “Too good for me huh,” “White girl with her nose in the air,” and some other, more personal things too profane to repeat here.
I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do. I had no mace, no self-defense training. Didn’t know anybody in the area yet. Cars zoomed by on Grand River Avenue, but nobody was paying any attention. I felt completely powerless.
Finally, he stopped talking. But he kept following me. I tried walking faster. He sped up, too. I tried slowing down to let him pass me. He slowed down, too. Finally I turned down my street, thinking he wouldn’t dare turn and follow me, not with an elementary school right there on the corner. But the schoolyard was empty, and no one was around on my street. And he kept following me.
A few doors down from my house, I walked up the driveway of a neighbor’s house and hid behind it, imagining that he would think this was my house and his little game would end there. I waited, watching the time. Five minutes passed. I peeked out from the side of the house — and there he was, standing on the sidewalk, arms folded. Watching me. Waiting.
I finally called 911 and when the police came, he tried to run away. They caught him and took him in, but had to let him go the next day. I was told I couldn’t press charges because he hadn’t actually done anything to me.
But he did do something to me.
I never walked to work again. I never felt safe in my neighborhood again, or even in my own house — as close as I was to the street, I kept imagining he, or someone like him, might be waiting outside for me.
Eventually, I moved to a different neighborhood. But I still don’t walk anywhere by myself. And I feel angry about it. A man can walk around practically anywhere he wants and have no fear. But a woman has to be told, has to feel, it’s not safe.
It’s not fair.
Since I was 12 and first started jogging on city streets, I’ve always encountered leers and comments. I’ve jogged in suburban neighborhoods of Silicon Valley, the capital of Costa Rica, Paris, San Diego CA, etc. As your research bears out, I perceive it to be a simple fact of life and my only response has either been retreat or anger. As a 12-16 year old, I would often yell back my age, hoping to expose to the adult male that he was my father’s age. My older brother believed I was exaggerating the extent of the staring and sexual comments, that perhaps I was flattering myself. Until, one day he ran with me. He was utterly shocked at how watched and violated he felt after experiencing the level of attention I received. He had an entirely new perspective on how poorly women and girls are treated in public, even with a chaperone. To this day, (25 years later), I will still reflexively flip off anyone who whistles or slows down to stare, etc. It sometimes makes me so angry I will chase after them and hit their car with my fists if they are forced to stop at an upcoming stoplight. I fully understand that some are raised to think that calling out sexual comments is a compliment, but I don’t think they’ve thought it through – to have every single moment on a public street be an invitation for being sexualized is simply not fun.
I was in a taxi going back to my boyfriend’s house from a night out at about 4 in the morning, and I was drunk. The taxi driver told me it would be 20$ and being drunk I handed him the money in order to not have to deal with it later.
He stopped the cab 3 blocks from my boyfriend’s house in a really quiet, dark neighborhood, and got out. I got out of the taxi and asked him why he wasn’t driving the next three blocks. He told me that if I didn’t suck his dick, he would leave me there and drive off.
I walked back to the house in the dark, hiding in the shadows because I was afraid. I’m furious that I didn’t take down his license number and report him.
When I was 16, I was walking to the bus stop in my nice, relatively safe neighborhood. As I passed an elementary school on a busy street, an adult businessman in a red sports car slowed down and offered me sex, a ride, and told me how hot I looked today. The most shocking thing was that he looked like he could be someones father, so normal and almost safe looking. I was horrified, and loudly told him I was 16, and why the hell did he think it was acceptable as a grown man to hit on a child? I told him his words were disgusting and inappropriate and walked away. Plenty of other people on the street heard and stared at the man with disgust. His shame and embarrassment at being called out was empowering.
Unfortunately, I don’t currently hollaback at street harassers. This event happened in Seattle, and I now live alone in Fresno and rarely leave my apartment as I don’t feel safe.
I was riding the number 3 bus northbound. A man boarded, sat down and loudly cracked a beer open. He then started to come on to the young Asian woman sitting next to him, trying to get her attention in Cantonese, making kissing motions at her, draping his arm over the back of his seat. She was visibly ignoring him and feeling uncomfortable. I reported him to the driver – first for the beer, then for the assault. The driver notified transit police but did nothing more.
Some guy, probably a couple years older than me, knew that I was looking at something in the distance when I was going into the station and he was leaving. He said “hi beautiful”. I immediately turned around, looked him in the eyes and responded “That’s not cool! Not cool.” He seemed so taken aback that I actually responded with confidence instead of putting my head down and walking into the station, that all he could mutter way “okay.”
I was walking home from work on Friday and the traffic was backed up so there was a line of cars by the sidewalk. I heard voices and I looked over and three guys in a car were whistling and yelling at me. Calling me names and telling me they’d give me a ride home. It’s scary enough when you have one guy saying things to you but to have a car full of men yelling at me when I’m just trying to walk home is so frustrating and upsetting. People in the other cars nearby were looking to see who they were yelling at so it makes you feel completely on display and so embarrassed even though I didn’t do anything wrong. I just want to be able to walk home without having a car full of guys yell at me. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
On November 5, 2012 at roughly 11:50AM in Washington, D.C., I experienced street harassment. I was on my way to my local US post office in downtown (Gallery Place) to return my absentee voting ballot. A man was staring at me and leeringly said, “Pretty girl,” as he passed. Given the fact that we could have been the same age (29 or early thirties), somehow it felt particularly demeaning, intrusive, and uncalled for. I said “Stop talking to me,” but probably did not say it loud or assertively enough for him to have heard since he was already on his way.
Today when a car pulled up next to me with the window down, the passenger said, “You need a new bike, baby.”
First of all, my bike IS new. Secondly, I don’t even let my husband call me baby. Ugh.
Once, when I was walking home from school. This guy about the same age as me, offered me five dollars to suck his dick. I was stunned.