October 28, 2008
My freshmen year of college, I joined a sorority. Every week, the new members would have a meeting at the house where we would get to know each other and learn about our chapter. One of the girls in my pledge class had a car, and would pick a few of us up each week and give us a ride to the house. We often had to park on the next street over, and walk a block.
One evening, three of us were walking. It was about 8 o’clock at night, and pitch black. We were laughing and joking; we were all excited about the meeting. We heard a car coming up from behind us. We didn’t think anything about it, because we were on a residential street with many houses. Then we realized the car was driving extremely slow and keeping up with our walking pace. We looked over, and saw a man in the car. He had his dome light on so we could see inside the car. The man had one hand on the wheel, and was masturbating. He made eye contact with us and then looked down at his penis, so we would be sure of what he was doing. His car was about three feet from us. I can’t remember ever being so shocked in my life. I froze, I didn’t know what to do. One of the other girls yelled something at him; I can’t remember what. He sped up and drove away.
Everybody started to laugh and make jokes about the “pervert”. I laughed too; but inside I was shocked and hurt. Why would someone do that? Had he done that before? Was this a daily thing for him? We came to the house and went inside. We never really talked about it. I know that it’s something that I will always remember. I’ve been vocally harassed before. But this was something completely different. I remember wondering if this was something he did to other girls on our campus. He could have just as easily stopped the car and assaulted us. I’ve shared this story with only my boyfriend. I’m embarrassed to tell anyone else.
October 24, 2008
Street harassment in Egypt is in the news a lot lately, and this week the BBC reports on yet another newsworthy street harassment story about a harasser who is receiving a prison sentence.
In June, Noha Rushdi Saleh was repeatedly groped and harassed by the defendant while she was walking down the street. Passers-by told her not to go to the police and some blamed her for provoking the attack [surely any woman would love to be groped while minding her own business in public]. She had to literally drag the man to the police station and initially the police refused to open an investigation. The man was found guilty recently and has been jailed for three years with hard labor and must pay 5,001 Egyptian pounds to Ms. Saleh for the attack.
The BBC reports: “The case was taken up by the Badeel opposition daily, which blamed Egypt’s oppressive government, and ‘the majority of citizens who identified with the oppressor’, and ‘decades of incitement against women’ in some mosques …”
“Egyptian women’s rights campaigners have praised the judge for handing down what is being seen as a harsh, exemplary sentence.”
The article also reports something I missed in the news:
“In an unusual development earlier in October, eight men were arrested in Cairo for allegedly taking part in a mob-style sexual attack on women pedestrians.
The attack, during the Eid holiday, was reminiscent of an incident in 2006 during the same holiday which marks the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
On both occasions, witnesses reported that police officers were present but did nothing to protect women who were violently groped and had some of their clothing torn off.”
Thoughts? Was a jail sentence too harsh? Not harsh enough? Just right? I’m glad Ms. Saleh had the courage to fight him, report him, and fight the police to eventually receive justice.
October 20, 2008
On the Shakesville blog, people are answering the question: “In what ways has the idea of sexual assault and/or street harassment affected your daily movements?” The question was posed on Saturday and already there are over 400 responses. Since this is exactly one of the topics I want to discuss in a book I plan to write on street harassment, I was thrilled and I have been eagerly reading through the posts. It never ceases to amaze me how much our lives are impacted by street harassment.
I was part-way through reading a post by FriedaK about getting followed by a guy in a car as she walked home from a night shift at work when I had a flashback to a street harassment incident I had completely forgotten about. Over a year ago when I first began researching street harassment, I wrote down all of the “major” incidents I could recall but I didn’t remember this one.
In this incident I was either 14 or 15 years old and I was running a 6 mile loop through the streets near my house in Pacific Palisades, CA. I think it was a Saturday morning. I ran up Sunset Blvd and then cut up into a very affluent neighborhood because they had a large hill I liked running up. I’d run this route many times. This day, I was part-way up the hill (and about 2.25 miles into my run) when a man in a car started driving slowly beside me. My heart quickened but I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he was probably looking for a certain house, etc. Still, I increased my pace.
I ran about another 3/4th of a mile with him still beside me and I was getting more nervous each second. There was no one on the street and most of the houses had big security gates and looked very intimidating and I didn’t really see running up to one of them for help as a viable solution. By that point, he’d been beside me long enough that I worried that he was up to no good. I was too freaked out to look at him and so I just pretended I didn’t notice him and wasn’t bothered. I reached the peak of the hill and as soon as I saw a side street, I sprinted down it and kept going full speed, weaving in and out of side streets until I reached Sunset Boulevard, a well populated street.
I didn’t see him again during the run but I was really shook up. I’d been running alone for a few years at that point and I had generally always felt safe (though not enough to run at night) and it was a big shock to not feel safe anymore. My mom bought mace for me to carry around that time and I can’t remember if it was in response to that incident or not.
Compared to so many women whose stories I’ve read, this incident is nothing. I wasn’t assaulted, raped, attacked, nor did I even have anything offensive or threatening yelled at me. He may not have been following me at all. I will never know. But I do know it was very real to me at the time and in the few minutes since I remembered it happening, I have felt shaky and scared just thinking about it. It’s surprises me that I forgot about this incident and that remembering it has upset me so much.
October 14, 2008
I just found this video clip today & I am glad that there is another place women have been able to share their street harassment stories and experiences. It reinforces that this is a real problem for soo many women! And this video clip brings in some of the complexities of race that intersect with so much of street harassment.
October 7, 2008
Reuters reports that: “more than 35 young women wearing tight trousers have been arrested for ‘disturbing the peace’ in south Sudan . . . The women were arrested on Sunday night, but released without charge on Monday after appearing in court. ‘They were wearing trousers that were too tight, disturbing the peace,’ said Deputy Police Commissioner of Juba County Raiman Lege.”
Does “disturbing the peace” because of tight pants mean getting harassed by men or “distracting” men because they can see what women’s legs look like? I’m not clear on that but I’m assuming so and thus adding it to this blog, which is full of street harassment-related news stories lately. Kudos to reporters for keeping these issues in the news, and boo to the people who harass and assault women and say stupid things like women should wear veils that reveal only one eye.
And in other news, almost 700 people have taken my full survey and almost 300 others answered the questions on the first page. If you haven’t taken this informal, anonymous survey yet, please do! I’ll be shutting it down soon.