Is he masturbating against you?

April 29, 2009

Sadie at Jezebel wrote a post yesterday about the  many times she’s been unsure whether or not a man standing by her on a crowded subway is masturbating against her.

She said, “After the fact, somehow, you’re always pretty sure. But at the time, there’s just enough doubt to make one’s course of action debatable. It’s not like being flashed, or getting stuck alone in a car with some guy jerking off which, while horrible, is pretty straightforward…”

My mother had this happen to her in New York City about two years ago. She also wasn’t sure if the man rubbing against her on the crowded subway was purposely doing so or if it was the result of a crowded car, until the car became less crowded and he was still doing it. And even then, she gave him the benefit of the doubt to the extent that she didn’t say anything to him.

It’s a tricky situation: no one wants to falsely accuse someone, but no one wants to just let that happen to them (or anyone else) either.

I’m reminded of various commenters on the recent Boston Globe article about the subway anti-groping campaign in Boston who were SO concerned that women were falsely accusing men left and right of being gropers when they probably were just getting bumped on a crowded train. From anecdotal evidence, I think most women will give questionable gropers and masturbators the benefit of the doubt so I think the fear of those men is largely unfounded. (And funny how that was their concern, instead of being concerned that enough women are getting groped on the subway that Boston had to create an anti-groping campaign…) The fear of being wrong probably keeps many women from doing anything about the questionable gropers and masturbators unless it becomes quite clear what is going on (like if he’s still doing it after the train clears).

Given this dilemma, what have you done if you’ve had a possible groper or masturbator make physical contact with you?

Sadie said she has been known to dig her high heel into a questionable harasser’s foot – and often he steps away from her. My mom reporter the man rubbing against her to the New York City Transit.

Is this article for real?

April 29, 2009

Police say this woman could’ve probably used better judgement, but that doesn’t change the fact she was taken somewhere against her will and forced into a very bad situation.”

That is the opening sentence in an article for KOLD News 13 about the sexual assault of a woman in the Phoenix, AZ, area.* To be unprofessional and slang-y myself, is this for real?!? Were there no editors on staff to review it before it was posted? Or is it a joke? Assuming it’s a real article…

Spelling and grammar errors aside, blatant victim blaming here and later in the article (“Granted, authorities say the victim could’ve likely avoided this had she not asked a complete stranger for a ride, but that doesn’t make this man’s alleged actions right.”) is unprofessional, unhelpful, and harmful. Really, what is the point? Who does that help?

<sarcasm>Oh and thanks for conceding that his actions weren’t right even though she was sooo stupid for getting in that car with him. Everyone knows the second a woman gets help from a stranger she’s bound to get assaulted. </sarcasm>

The facts I can glean from this mess of an article: a young woman was at a Circle K convenience store at 3 a.m., looking for a ride home.  Someone offered her a ride. She went with him and he allegedly sexually assaulted her in a lot nearby. There is no information about how she got away or if she’s okay, just a plea to report anyone who looks like him because “he does pose a threat to other members of the community.”

If a man had asked for a ride home at 3 a.m. and the driver sexually assaulted him, would the opening sentence of the article have blamed him for getting in the car? Maybe (thinking of Mathew Shepherd) but it is less likely.

Why doesn’t she have the right to try to find a ride home if she needs one, which she clearly did? Oh yeah, she’s female.  She shouldn’t be out alone at night without a man to protect her…

I’m appalled by the journalism throughout the article and I hope she’s okay!

*I wouldn’t define this incident as street harassment, but I think it’s relevant to the victim blaming women may experience when street harassers target them

New Mauritius Street Harassment Blog

April 28, 2009
Mauritius, image from

Mauritius, image from

Oh, street harassment, truly you are a global problem. Additional proof: the Stop Violence Against Women group of Amnesty International Mauritius Section recently has launched an anti-street harassment blog as part of its anti-street harassment campaign in Mauritius.

Where is Mauritius, you may ask? It’s an island located in the Indian Ocean near the island of Madagasca and South Africa. It is 11 times the size of Washington, DC. And wouldn’t you know it? Apparently street harassment is a big problem there.

From their blog: “From inappropriate touching to invasive comments to stalking, street harassment is something that far too many Mauritians have to face on a daily basis. Causing fear, guilt, and frustration, these behaviors define women and girls as non-citizens, disrupting their access to freedom, independence and human rights.”

“Posting a story here will help other targets realize they aren’t alone and have nothing to be ashamed of. It will show harassers that we don’t accept their inappropriate and degrading behavior.”

“The members of the SVAW group thank you for participating in this blog. Whether it’s by reading, contributing or commenting, you are helping to make the streets of Mauritius a safer place.”

So spread the word about this new blog and learn more about street harassment in Mauritius by reading contributor’s stories there.

Flashing in Film Festival’s Ad: Funny or Not?

April 27, 2009

I found this post on SAFER’s blog by Sarah M. in response to the Tribeca Film Festival’s ad campaign.

Excerpt from Sarah M.’s post: “…This ad for the festival, which I saw for the first time yesterday when it ran before the festival screening I was attending, plays to the tagline: “Think You’ve Seen It All In New York? Think Again.” Two women are walking through a park when a naked man in a trenchcoat suddenly exposes himself to them. While one woman is disgusted, the other is enticed by his naked body, asking him to lift up his coat and turn around, and even asks the flasher for a date. Now, I understand that this is supposed to be funny precisely because it’s not funny. The conceit is that flashing is disgusting and the audience is supposed to laugh at the absurdity of a woman actually getting her flasher’s number for a date, especially considering that he’s not exactly a “hunk.” OK, I get it. But still, still I am really angered by this ad…I am angry that whoever made the ad doesn’t really understand that in order for the ad to be ironic, people have to understand how completely disgusting street harassment is, and I’m sorry but I don’t think that people, in general, do.

Screen shot from ad

Screen shot from ad

I’m angry because the night before I saw this ad, this happened to me: walking from the subway to a friend’s house on an empty, but what I would consider to be a safe street, an older teenager on a bike was riding ahead of me. As I learned long ago to do when walking alone, I kept my eyes pointed straight ahead, glancing at the kid from the corner of my eye now and then just to keep tabs on his movements and proximity. At some point I could swear that I saw him take his penis out of his pants and start touching himself while operating his bike with one hand, but I thought I must be crazy and ignored it. Then he pulled up his bike a few feet in front of me, off to the side of the sidewalk so he wasn’t exactly blocking my path, and just stayed there silently as I passed. Trying to move fast and not make eye contact I again was pretty positive that this guy was sitting on his bike masturbating but I didn’t really want to look hard enough to confirm this. At this point I was almost at my friend’s house and he slowly followed me down the street on his bike, keeping his distance but definitely following. Finally he stopped across the street from my destination and waited there, definitely jerking off, still silent, until I got into the house.

I don’t think I need to explain how scary and disgusting this situation was. I was still somewhat upset by it by the time I arrived at the movie the next day only to see that festival ad. Just writing this makes me flush with anxiety again. What happened to me wasn’t funny, and even less funny is the fact that this stuff happens a lot more than people think. Perhaps men in trenchcoats aren’t walking around flashing all the time, but what about the guy on the subway who openly masturbates while a young woman sits across from him? What about this guy on the bike? These aren’t isolated events. Forgive me if I can’t find the humor there.”

What do you think? Do you agree with her that the ad was in poor taste or do you think it is funny, ironic, or edgy?

Street Harassment Round Up – April 26

April 26, 2009


A contributor on Holla Back DC wrote about getting harassed by a UPS employee. She reported him and received support from the person she spoke to at UPS.

HollaBack Toronto reported that two men abducted and sexually assaulted a young woman in the Younge St-Davisville Road area earlier in the week. Visit their site to learn more — anyone with information can call Crime Stoppers at 416-222-8477.


MBTA released information about their sexual harassment campaign on their subway system (the T) in Boston. They feel it’s been successful in raising awareness about how to deal with the problem as groping complaints went up 74 perecent from the previous year and police arrested 24 people for indecent assault and battery (up 85 percent from the year before).

Upcoming Events:

April 29: Holla Back DC‘s Official Blog Launch Party, 6 – 8 p.m. at Cafe Citron

May 2: Girls for Gender Equity’sHey…Shorty!” documentary will be featured at the 8th Annual Women of African Descent Film Festival at 11 a.m., in the Spike Lee Screening Room of Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus in New York. Cost: free

Fines for unnecessary honking

April 25, 2009

A common scenario is walking on the sidewalk on a highly trafficked road and getting honked at. It can leave you feeling powerless, because by the time you hear it and process it the one who did it is long gone. It can be jarring, scary and then make you wonder why you were singled out at all. Was it what you wore? Just the fact that you were walking on the sidewalk? This is unacceptable. Fines for unnecessary honking should be enforced.


Hear from Egyptian Activists

April 23, 2009

BBC posted a new audio report today about the rise of activism in Egypt around the widespread problem of sexual harassment in public. A few weeks ago BBC reported on the increase in women taking self defense classes in Egypt to deal with their harassers. This audio clip includes interviews with some of those women.

There is an interview with one of the women at the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights about the survey they conducted last year. This woman said that too often Egyptian women are blamed for the harassment they receive because they were supposedly dressing provocatively, and that there’s a perception that if women didn’t dress in a certain way there wouldn’t be harassment. Well, in their survey (where 83 percent of women reported experiencing harassment and 2/3rds men said they engage in harassment), more than 70 percent of the women said they were wearing a veil when they were harassed. She said that was an important finding to show how pointless it is to blame victims for harassment crimes – women are harassed no matter what they wear!

Also interviewed in the clip were individuals involved in the “Respect yourself: Egypt still has real men” campaign in a Cairo neighborhood of Mohandiseen,  sponsored by Kelmetna, a magazine for young people. It targets Egyptian men and encourages Egyptian women to speak out, too. When members of the group asked men what they would do if they saw a woman being harassed by men, most reported that they would join in harassing her, especially if she was not dressed conservatively (!!).  A young man interviewed said he thinks that since people can’t marry until they’re older due to the economy, men are taking out their sexual frustration on women in the street, causing the rise is street harassment. The group holds rallies at universities and canvasses the streets, reminding taxi drivers and food vendors to uphold Egypt’s tradition of hospitality. On Facebook, the campaign has over 53,000 members.

I also found the following about the group:

“As part of the campaign, Kelmetna magazine hosts weekly seminars and discussions to raise awareness about the problem. It also offers self-defence classes for women so they can fight off harassers. In addition to seminars, the group members and volunteers, who are all aged between 14 and 24, take their work to the streets, talking to people about sexual harassment. One of their main goals when they approach people is to convince them to refrain from all types of sexual harassment as well as to speak out when they see it happening. The campaign also involves street concerts to raise awareness.”

Fantastic work!

(thanks to frequent reader Beckie for this story tip)