Nicola’s Got Nerve: On Remaining Alert and Using Your Voice

This post, by Nicola Briggs, is part of a series of posts that we call Nicola’s Got Nerve. You may remember Nicola from this incident caught on camera which was viewed by more than 1.5 million people and which sparked outrage from all corners of the globe, bringing street harassment to the forefront of women’s rights issues. We admire’s Nicola’s ability to turn a traumatic event into focused action through writing and activism, and we think you will too.

I know how it is: you’re tired because you stayed up late last night studying or with friends, and you just can’t help yourself from nodding off on that long subway ride into Brooklyn for work. So you do because you’ve taken that route so many times, it’s broad daylight, and you’ve seen so many other people do it. How could it be unsafe? But it is, especially if you’re a woman traveling alone.

Or perhaps you’re standing on a busy subway platform during rush hour reading the newspaper. So you don’t happen to notice a man that has been staring at you and getting too close for comfort. Predators like this rely on their surroundings to hide what they’re doing. Above ground, if someone were to stand that close to you, you’d be immediately aware of it and move away. But because we expect to be packed in with hundreds of others below ground, it gives the sexual predator a psychological advantage and a reason to be inappropriately close to you. However, this crime of opportunity doesn’t only happen during rush hours, but can just as easily occur in the middle of the day on an almost deserted platform as well, because predators like this are searching for three things: someone who they perceive is not a threat to them, someone who is not alert, and someone who they feel will not fight back. In short, this type of predator is searching for a woman alone, who they will try to violate.

This problem in our subway system seems to be growing, with predators getting more and more brazen. Even the prospect of time behind bars doesn’t seem to deter this dangerous type of anti-social behavior. I should know. After I was attacked in 2010, the perpetrator got out on bail and was caught again just a few weeks later for doing the exact same thing to another woman. So the law, which so far treats most of these crimes as misdemeanors, has not been a deterrent to these criminals. On October 6, at around 1:30 pm, police reported that another woman was forcibly touched and subjected to indecent exposure on the Lorimer Street J train platform. (The litany of cases just goes on and on, doesn’t it?)

Fortunately, we’ve got an influential ally in Public Advocate Bill De Blasio who’s trying to change the categorization of these sexually violent offenses to that of felony. He understands the danger that New York women are in if we can’t secure greater penalties for this type of offense. In the meantime, he advises using self-defense to protect yourself and others, by specifically using the power of your voice to defend yourself. “If you feel uncomfortable; you feel something is about to happen, make noise,” De Blasio said. “Make that scene, because it might save you or other people on the train from an attack. Better to make the noise; better to create the distraction, that to wish later you had.”

I could not agree more. I know that if I had not raised my voice (for exactly 8 minutes of controlled screaming, calling attention to the perpetrator and waiting for transit police to arrive), the perpetrator would have gotten away and violated someone else that day. So while it’s more than unfortunate that women have got to remain on alert, it is within our power to defend ourselves just by raising our voices. By using your voice and announcing what is happening to you, you’re able to present yourself to a predator as not standing for this type of behavior, and to onlookers as a person in need of (and deserving of) their help. In short, the power of your voice can protect you from harm and can protect others. It may not seem like the polite thing to do to raise your voice in public, to announce in graphic terms what a predator has tried to do to you, but as De Blasio explains, it’s better to act now so you won’t have regrets later. Remember ladies, raise your voices, and don’t let good manners ruin your day.

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