Samantha’s Story: Harassment abroad

I spent the last semester abroad in Morocco. I’ve experienced street harassment but never like this. I was living in the medina, or old city, with a family, and every day my walk to and from school was a total battle. I hoped eventually I would get used to it, or the men would give up. But as much as I grew over the semester, I had to realize they didn’t.

On one occasion I was walking by myself on the main avenue of the “French city”. The sidewalks were crowded, people everywhere, big wide public spaces. Out of nowhere 5 boys went by on rollerblades, ages ranging from 25 to 16. The first one grabbed my breast as he went by. I turned to scream at him and another slapped my ass. A third grabbed my breast again. I screamed and cursed every word I knew in Arabic but no one did a thing. Families simply stared at the white girl causing a scene. The worst part was I was about a block away from a police station.

The actual groping was not an every day occurrence, but it was clear men knew about it. Any boy on a bike would swerve towards you and turn away at the last second with a terrible smile on his face as if to tell you, “I could if I wanted to.”

And the guys on my program never fully got it. They’d say it’s a big deal in the states too, or act as if it wasn’t a huge deal. Or give you tips on how to avoid it as if they know anything about how to deal with it. There is nothing a girl can do that should ever make that okay. It does not matter what she wears, how she holds her head, what words she screams after the fact. It just shouldn’t happen.

Towards the end my boyfriend came to visit. Suddenly, I could walk down the same streets with him and never hear a thing. It made me mad. The second he walked away, it would start up again. The men had no respect for me as a person, simply for my boyfriend and what apparently belonged to him.

In the end, we couldn’t hold back anymore and the girls on my program began verbally confronting men who would harass us. They always seemed in total shock that we didn’t like it. Apparently having someone violate your personal space and whisper obscenities in your ear without your choice is welcoming. I do believe a lot of them meant it without harm, but their willingness to let the cat-calling and following and pestering slide meant it was so much easier for those men who did mean harm to get away with it.