Telling Off Construction Workers

January 30, 2009

I told a group of construction workers that I used to walk by every day on my way to school that I’m not their dog to whistle at, and I angrily stared at one of them in the eyes to let them know I was serious. When I did that, they were shocked; I guess they had never gotten that kind of response before.

– anonymous

Tracey Rose Interview

January 27, 2009

A few months ago I posted the short documentary “Black Woman Walking” by Tracey Rose.  She was kind enough to do an interview for me for my book, but I also found this recent interview she did for All Diva Media. Here is an excerpt.  I definitely recommend reading the full text:

We know that we live in a culture where women are seen as sex objects but what can we as women do about it? Are we just helpless victims who need to learn how to ignore crass behavior?

No, I don’t believe we’re helpless victims or anything. I think the more we discuss this amongst ourselves and with men in our communities, the less we normalize this behavior. That’s part of the issue, how seemingly “normal” it all is. It’s a socially tolerable form of violence.

I’ve had women come up to me crying after a screening, because they remember how psychologically damaged they felt in their teen years and how this affected their view of the men in their communities thereafter. For something so “seemingly small,” this can have major repercussions on our most basic interactions.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

I was raised by a father who, as a kid, I would always write off as overprotective and paranoid because of his preoccupation with sexual violation, but I later realized that he understood that a black female body was looked at as prey in the world.

There are few instances in my life that solidified that view for me more than the harassment I encountered on city streets. You finally understand that on a basic level, you are just a body to some people, not a student, a daughter, a friend, or a wife, but merely a body with breasts and an opening between her legs. And to see that is really horrifying, but then you remember that we live in a country, where systemic rape of black women was justified, that in a court of a law, it was considered impossible to rape a black woman, her violation legally could not be considered rape. The undercurrent of that consciousness doesn’t go away just cause you get the right to vote. It lives in our soil. It lives in our language.

Many more people are willing to talk about street harassment than are willing to talk about domestic violence, rape, or the sex trafficking of minors. But isn’t the undercurrent underneath those things the same consciousness that creates them all–the idea that women, especially women of color, are fundamentally prey?

Group Groping on the Street – Video

January 24, 2009

A friend just alerted me to the following video of guys group groping women walking by.  I’m not sure where the location is, but it’s somewhere warm and it seems like it must be in an area with clubs or the beach from the way people are dressed. The guys are on the sidewalk and they are groping and otherwise harassing all the women that walk by and videotaping themselves doing it etc. They are clearly getting a big kick out of it at the expense of the ladies.  As with a lot of street harassment, most of the women walk on by — it’s a large group of men — but a few fight back.

I wish I knew more about what was going on and if anyone ever reported these guys because what you can see in the video is really disturbing. The guys weren’t just grabbing body parts either (horrible enough) but they were also pulling down women’s pants to see their underwear and really violating the space and privacy and surely the level of comfort of the women.

It was especially chilling near the end when they had completely surrounded one of the women and it made me worry for her safety. Group herd mentality at its worst.  I hope she got away. . .

What would you have done if you’d seen this happening?

Groper on Wall Street

January 23, 2009

I was walking to work on Wall Street, it was a crowded narrow sidewalk. I noticed that someone hit me almost right between the legs. I thought it was strange but could have been an accident. I didn’t see exactly who it was. A few mornings later walking to work it happened again, this time i knew it was no mistake. This man was walking to work and grabbing women’s vaginas on his way. I started screaming at him. Calling him a freak and pervert. People were staring at me yelling at this huge man dressed in a suit and tie. It’s no longer the route i take. I still think of going back and waiting for him but this time i would be ready to take a picture. I also carry mace. I felt so angry after i had been violated. I seriously wanted to injure this man. I hate him and he makes me sick. It’s scary he was doing this to a grown woman of 27 years. It’s hard to imagine he’s not doing it to young girls on the streets.

– anonymous story from my street harassment survey


January 22, 2009

January is Stalking Awareness Month. Most people who are stalked know the person stalking them and the average duration of stalking is 1.8 years.(1) Here are helpful resources:

Brief stalking by strangers in public is also a big problem and one that is very scary for the women being followed. I’ve read close to 200 stories involving women being followed and stalked in public by strangers, including the following two stories:

“I was stalked by a strange man one day in a shopping center, when I was out with my friend. He would just appear in front of us several times, leering at us very aggressively. I started laughing because I was so nervous, and we entered a store and asked for help from the woman clerk. We called my friend’s mom as soon as we were in the store so she would pick us up as we were afraid of staying in that mall.”

“I was once followed home from the subway by two men making sexually explicit comments and suggestions. I ignored them until one grabbed me from behind, at which point I turned around and started to scream profanity at them. That convinced them to leave, since it was crowded. No one came up to offer assistance, or see if I was ok afterward, and I felt ashamed that people saw it happen.”

Have you ever been followed or stalked? If so, how were you able to get away? Do you have any advice to share?

Attacked While Jogging

January 6, 2009

The New York Times reports that a woman was jogging in a park in NYC on Sunday when a man slashed her forehead with a knife and then walked away. It sounds like she went into shock and then was taken to the hospital. No one saw the attack happen and the assailant is still at large.

What a horrific experience! And all it takes is one attack like that to scare other women from going to that park or going running alone, especially since he hasn’t been caught yet. To naysayers, street harassment can be very insidious and does impact women – directly and indirectly – in the choices they make.

Also worth noting, women are much more likely to be attacked or hurt by someone they know (not true for men), but, random acts of violence against women by strangers in public like this obviously happen. The randomness does a great job of scaring women into trying to avoid places they think they will be more vulnerable (when in actuality, many of them are safer on the street than in their own home).

Will women who read this story be advised by concerned friends & family to not run alone or decide themselves not to go running alone? Probably. Will any men be advised or feel the need not to go running alone because of this story? Probably not, yet statistically, they’re more at risk of stranger attacks than women. Funny, huh?

Anyway, I hope the woman who was attacked will be okay and that the  man will not attack anyone else!

When your harasser is a customer or client

January 5, 2009

After the Rose Bowl, football player Rey Maualug went up behind Erin Andrews, a sideline reporter for the ESPN College Football Saturday telecast, and did a sexual sort of dance – without touching her – before walking on past.

Reading comments in the blogosphere, it is clear that (like lots of other kinds of harassment) many people saw nothing wrong with this behavior. I disagree because she obviously didn’t know it was happening and he wasn’t about to inform her, thus it was in no way a mutual sort of celebration, but one he enforced on her without her permission or awareness.

As both individuals are known to each other, I wouldn’t exactly classify his actions as street harassment or public harassment, which I tend to define as harassment between strangers in public, but I don’t know that it quite qualifies as workplace sexual harassment either.

This example illustrates a very pervasive kind of harassment that many women deal with in their jobs — harassment by customers or clients (and in this case, the people being interviewed or reported on for a story). What can someone do about a sexually harassing customer s/he is supposed to be serving without jeopardizing her/his job?

I worked in a few retail jobs as a teenager and I had my fair share of getting “hit on” by male customers (most of whom were years to decades older than me).  What could I do but giggle nervously and just hope they would go away soon? The customer is always right, right?

I just did a quick online search for any information on sexual harassment by customers, and among the few webpages I found included this: “Q: Does sexual harassment law apply to harassment by customers? A:Yes, as long as the employer knows about the offensive behavior and has a chance to fix the problem. Customer harassment is a lot like co-worker harassment. Until you speak up, the employer may not have enough reason to suspect that the company’s client is harassing you and making your job miserable.”

But how many employers are in the position to regulate customers? Unless someone is threatening or stalking an employee, in which case I could see an employer banning that person from the area, what would an employer do? Tell the customer to stop “flirting with” or harassing its employees? Will they risk losing a customer when they can probably easily find another hourly worker who won’t complain?

Have you experienced sexual harassment from customers, clients & non-coworkers/supervisors while on the job? Do you know about legal remedies for dealing with it or is it in the same realm as street harassment and is something we’re all supposed to “live with”?