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Hello, my name is Grace. I live in Brooklyn and am in 11th grade in high school. Thank you so much for holding this hearing today to listen to the stories and issues faced by so many New York girls and women every day.
I cannot remember the last time I walked out of my house and returned home that night without being sexually harassed at some point during the say. Be it the slimy grin and the threatening eyes, or the erection digging into my back in a sardine-like packed train.
The subway is where I experience it the worst. My phone does not work on the subway. I cannot quickly move away or off the train. I am completely alone. But this should not have to mean that I am completely vulnerable.
The moment which I have felt most degraded, belittled, and humiliated was at 6pm on a Saturday getting onto the 1 train at Chambers heading Uptown. I got on and noticed everyone on one side of the train. I didn’t think too much about it and sat down on the two-seated bench furthest away from everyone. The doors closed and the train moved away from the station.
I suddenly noticed a man sitting across from me I hadn’ t seen before. He was white, old, and wearing a big tan jacket and a baseball cap. He had a friendly face.
His eyes flashed up to meet mine and I quickly dropped my gaze into my lap. I didn’t want to make eye contact with him, just like with any stranger; I was worried he would misinterpret the eye contact. But it is ridiculous, really, that I feel I cannot look a stranger in the eye because it would give them reason to think I may be provoking or leading them on in some way. Has it really gotten to the point where I have to watch and reserve every move I make to ensure he doesn’t make any of his own?
He shuffled his hands in his pockets.
The train stopped at Franklin Street.
No one got on.
The train doors closed and started on again.
He was fidgeting again, from what I could see from the corner of my eye.
I glanced up at him, against my better judgment.
The hands I thought were in his pockets were not. They were under the big sides of his tan coat.
I can’ t even remember what I felt at that moment. It was such a rush of so many emotions; it all washed over me and made me feel smaller than ever.
“ Don’ t look at his eyes,” I told myself, trying to keep calm, telling myself this wasn’t really happening. How could someone possibly comprehend doing this? I tried to concentrate on my hands. They were turning ghostly blue as I squeezed them so tightly for any sense of comfort or release of pain, whichever one it was. I did look up, only to realize the one thing I wished above all was not true. He was staring right back at me.
I guess I must have been angry. I don’ t think I could feel it though. My fear and shock overpowered everything else such as the shame and embarrassment. The vulnerability and victimization. The fact that I was frozen. Unable to say a thing. Unable to move. Unable to fully comprehend or at least not letting myself. The train stopped at Franklin.
“ Why me? Why now? What do I do?!” I screamed at myself inside. I thought I was going to explode. I knew that I should move or say something, anything.
The doors opened to the platform.
I wanted to get off then. I wanted to run off the train so badly. I wanted to scream at that man, who was so sick in the mind and inconsiderate, I just wanted to hurt him. I wanted to yell at the other people on the train, all huddled on the other side. They knew something was wrong, I could read right through their poker faces. I was in despair, and they did nothing. They didn’t even glance in my direction. I was in an incomprehensible state.
I stared longingly at the platform. My eyes fixated, yearning to drag my body out of this nightmare, off the train, or even onto the next car. But I was stuck. Crushed.
I did not move. I did not say a thing.
The doors closed and the train moved away from the platform again. I stared down at my hands, concentrating on their wrinkles and creases.
I blame myself for the event. I could have moved to the other side of the train. I could have yelled at the creepy man. I could have gotten off at Franklin or Canal. I could have asked for help. But in the moment, I just could not do it. I ignored the masturbation five feet in front of me and suppressed my feelings. I clenched my jaw and carried on, just the way all girls and women seem to react to the harassment they face every day.
I got off at Houston, as quick as possible. I was relieved to even be that far away from the stranger. But at the same time the relief settled in, a wave of anger and regret panged inside my chest. I almost instantly wished I could have gone back on the train and had the courage and power to stand up to the stranger and let him know, in any way possible that he was sick, that what he did was messed up, that I shouldn’t be blaming myself for it. That he was in the wrong and should be punished. It’ s basic morals, taught from when you’re a kid. He had no right. Yet he got away with it.
I walked up to the street that day and continued on. I did not think to mention it to anyone because it didn’t seem to matter. Who would care? And if they did care, what could they possibly do about it now? I cannot tell you how many times I have wished I could go back in time and done something.
I did not know what I would do for a while. But once Hollaback came to visit my class, I knew there was something I would do. I did not know that what happened to me was not unusual. That men frequently masturbated openly to girls and women on the subway. I was one of many cases. I did not experience anything out of the ordinary life of a girl living in New York City.
But how messed up does that sound? How morally contorted are we that young girls are normally subject to such degrading public embarrassment? How messed up is this system that if I hadn’t heard about the Hollaback organization, that if I hadn’ t heard about this hearing, I would still be burying these feelings inside, internalizing my pain and blaming myself for all the wrong that strange men have done to me.
I was not wearing anything that day to provoke him, just jeans and a T-shirt. But that should not have to matter. As my right, I should be able to wear what I want without having to worry about men taking advantage of me. I shouldn’t have to leave social outings early just because it’ s past 9:30 PM and it’ s considered too “ late” for a girl to be taking a long train ride by herself. I should not have to worry about the man at the Chambers Street station who every morning compliments me with a sexual subtext in his words.
Once, I was walking once just behind the playground of my school courtyard. I was not 3 feet away from the school premises when from behind, a man came up and pressed his body against mine. I could feel the heat off his skin, I could smell his hot stale breath as he blew my hair. “ NICE ASS,” he yelled in a loud, rude, and hostile voice. It was like he was putting me in my place, hammering me down, and reminding me of his authority and control over me. I felt helpless, a feeling I knew was exactly his goal, consciously or not.
I want other girls to know about organizations such as Hollaback. I want girls to know how to handle the terrible situations they encounter on the subway. I want people on the trains to help when they see something happening. I want to be able to ride the subways without having to be so constantly alert and cautious. I want to be able to wear what I want without it being an instigator for harassment. I want to be able to live in this city without having to feel below or undermined simply because I’m a girl.
I thank you for hearing me out. I thank you for listening to my stories that I have shoved to the back of my mind for so long, keeping them bottled up and disregarding them.
Please remember, that the experiences I shared are not unusual. They happen on a daily basis. I do not know one girl or woman in my life that has not experienced some form of sexual harassment in their life. I’m sure that this is true for almost every female you all know too. It is happening every day here in our city. I am only 16, and already I cannot remember half the traumatic experiences I have experienced due to male harassment. Thank you for listening, and please remember how great a help you all can be.
Hello, I would like to thank you for taking the time to listen to our testimonies for an issue that we all find very important. My name is Olivia. I am fifteen, and a junior in high school, currently taking a feminism class.
I come to you today to discuss the issue of street harassment. Having lived in New York City all my life, I have been receiving some form of harassment since I was eight. I have had a man insinuate that I am a prostitute, and that he would like to “ purchase” me. It has never escalated further than a man following me for about a block, but even that is too much. Almost every woman I know has experienced a man masturbating on the subway, or other public place, or has been stopped against her will on the street so a man can talk to her.
The worst part is, although street harassment is illegal, nobody gets caught. Rarely anybody on the street helps the woman being harassed, neither standing up for her nor calling the police. And what would happen if they did tell the police? Most likely nothing. There must be a change to this. The threat of street harassment is escalating, because men know they can get away with it. This city has to begin taking the issue more seriously. Posting signs in the subway is not enough, clearly. Men need to know that if they commit the crime of street harassment, they will receive punishment, as will any person who commits a crime. Thank you.
I go to the fish market in Moss Landing about 1x a week on my way home from school. A few weeks ago, before I found this site, I was buying some fish when the fish market worker made a dumb as hell “That’s what she said” joke after I said that I thought that cut of fish was to thick. I laughed awkwardly not because I was uncomfortable but because the joke was just not that clever. Then he made another equally dumb joke (also that’s what she said). Finally, as I was paying he asked me if my breasts were real. I was stunned. Pissed and ashamed I walked out and called my boyfriend. I drove about a mile before deciding to turn around and report it to the owner of the market. I also told the owner of the repeated comments I face (and many other women I assume) from the bar tender next to the fish case about how he asks everytime if I have a boyfriend, when I am getting married, and finally it escalated to him saying he wanted to get me drunk “out back.” Enough was enough. I have not gone back and am currently trying to find a new place to buy locally caught fish.
Submitted by Elizabeth
I’m walking down the street at about 9:00 at night. I’m wearing a skirt and heels, because I am about to go out with my friends. While waiting at the intersection, a truck full of guys start whistling at me, screaming at me and generally acting like dicks. I shoot them a look, but they don’t stop. So, I kind of blew up.
“I AM NOT A PIECE OF MEAT, YOU UN-EVOLVED JERKWADS!” was exactly what I shouted at the top of my lungs. They stopped, and the car drove away.
Behind me, I hear a slow clapping sound. I turn around and there is a little old woman walking up behind me. I smiled and she smiled, nodded and walked on.
So, the moral of the story is that while the whole Mendenhall Street area is pretty bad for getting harassed, at least occasionally you will get applauded by old ladies for fighting back. :]
Submitted by Emma
I was going to the movies with my friend and he left his phone in the car, so he asked me to go back to the parking lot to get it while he bought our tickets. So I was walking in the parking lot when a car PACKED with jerks passes by me. And when the car gets beside me, they start slowing down. I was texting this whole time, so I really wasn’t paying much attention to them. Then they start shouting things at me like “HOLLA!” and being very rude and trying to get my attention. At first, I didn’t think they were talking to me. Then a lady who was walking ahead of me with her son finally turned back and shot the guys a look. They thought we were the only ones in the parking lot, but then they noticed the lady looking at them, so they were embarrassed and they sped off. That’s when I finally noticed they were talking to me.
As I passed by the lady she gave me a “those guys are such losers” type of look. I smiled. I think it was very kind of her to do that.
I had my phone in my hand, I wish I would’ve taken a photo of them!
Submitted by Vava
My first Hollaback ever after years of verbal harassment on the street. I knew that my time had come when this creep said, “Hey sexy” as I walked by. I am actually pretty surprised at how close I got to him when snapping his photo. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea, actually – he full on swatted at me and said, “Fuck you” after I took it.
Submitted by KD
NOTE: We at Hollaback want to emphasize that your safety comes first. Trust your instincts. Your story is powerful, but you shouldn’t have to get hurt to tell it.
I had forgotten cab fare one night, and was forced to walk home drunk from a party one night. I was walking with a slurpee in hand as I reached an intersection. As soon as I walked into the road the light had turned green, and I ran to the other side. A jeep slammed on the gas and zoomed past me. The passenger in the front seat screamed “SLUUUUT” out the window as they were turning.
Without even thinking about what I was doing, I threw my slurpee at the car screaming “FUUCK YOU”. I got a perfect shot and my slurpee hit the windshield of the car. The jeep stopped and the passenger got out of the car. He screamed “YOU CUNT WHY WOULD YOU FUCKIN DO THAT?” For a few seconds I was in complete of what had just happened until a random man on the corner said “Yeah you’re psycho thats totally uncalled for”. As the passenger used his sweatshirt in an attempt to clean the slurpee off the windshield I went up to him and said “You deserve a lot more than a slurpee on your windshield for what you just called me!” and I stormed off.
Submitted by Amanda
I was on the train to 34th street and this man got on the train. He took up so much space with his bicycle and then continually asked every woman to sit down next him. Most women said no and ignored him. Some retaliated when he shouted out to them. One woman felt so pressured that after telling him no four times, she eventually had to sit down because he insisted so hard (disguised with politeness).
To add to the obnoxious objectification and sexualization of women, he stared at two girls and kept rubbing his genitals. He continued harder by placing a bag in front of his crotch and then pushing into that to seem less obvious.
He also sang loudly to himself and seemed a bit crazy. I would not trust being alone on the train with him.
This happened on the 3 Train Downtown from Grand Army Plaza (Brooklyn) to 14th Street (Manhattan)
Submitted by Julie
This happened to me before I’d ever heard of this site. I was in a clothing store, and this guy decided to be particularly obnoxious, coming on to me hard. “Hey shawty, what’s your number?” I said, “Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to talk to strangers? I’m as strange as they come in this city. Besides, I don’t give my number out like that.”
“Well, how about your address?” I looked at him like, REALLY? “Uhm…seriously– do you really think I’m gonna give someone I don’t know my address?”
This must not have sat too well with Mr. Obnoxious. “Well how about I call you on your extension–the ones you got in your hair, bitch?”
It was true– I was wearing braids at the time. People heard him, and his boys were laughing. So I said, “I’d tell you to grow a brain, but your dick would be pissed cuz it would then be the smallest organ on your body.” I turned and walked away, hearing his boys laugh again, but at him this time.
Stuff like that happens a lot here. I have tons of war stories: I had a bottle hit a few inches from my head for ignoring a guy, I had my hair literally yanked and then brick fragments thrown at me for not responding to another guy’s advances. It’s madness…
Submitted by Gata
Yesterday I was walking to the post office, feeling strong and standing up straight, happy to be feeling confident and grounded in my body. I recently moved with my partner to Philadelphia from our home in the Bay area Ca, and am still adjusting to a new city, but yesterday for the first time, I felt at home in my body here.
A man took that from me. He was just a random guy on the street, walking back to his car, but he may as well have knocked me over and kicked me. “Wassup Baby,” he said as he passed me. And then as I tried to speed up he watched me from behind and said “Nice ass.” I felt like every inch of my strength deflated with one breath, I was a puddle on the sidewalk.
I could feel his eyes on my body as I walked away, and I just wanted to disappear, but I couldn’t… So I just froze. I stood there, on the street, waiting to get up the courage to turn around and tell him that was NOT ok to talk to me that way. To explain how much his words cut through me like a knife, making me into a naked shell of myself. I stood there for what seemed like forever, as I heard him get into his car and zoom off. I stood there even after he was gone, ashamed of myself that I could not stand up for myself, for women, for our bodies that are forever under attack.
This was not the first time I had been harassed, but somehow it struck me differently, maybe because I am in a new place and far from home. Why is this ok? Why does this happen everywhere? I am now an adult woman, I don’t dress in a way that invites any attention to my body from strangers. I have a loving and respectful boyfriend who affirms my right to own my body every day, and I feel stronger now than when I got harassed as a teenager or even a few years ago. But yesterday, that man made me feel like nothing anyway. I wish there were more places like this website, where the force and weight of street harassment and all it leads to was acknowledged. How can we create more space for this issue to be recognized for the oppression that it is? I’m still searching. For now, thank you for making this space.
Submitted by Reena