My older sister was born with several kinds of disabilities and from an early age I looked out for and helped her. She passed away from complications related to some of those disabilities at age 12, when I was 10. I don’t engage in a lot of activism around rights for persons with disabilities because it makes me sad. But when I read about Blogging Against Disabalism Day, I thought I’d participate and try to put a street harassment spin on it.
I don’t remember my sister being a target of street harassment per say, probably the closest was just curious/nosey kids who’d ask questions about why she was or did X, Y, Z, and the occasional adults who’d stare. I’m sure if she’d lived longer, or if I had been older, I would have seen her be a target of worse since so much of street harassment is about power and control issues and unfortunately, she would have been an easy target.
In my on-going quest for street harassment stories, I haven’t come across many written by a self-identified person with disabilities about how their disabilities contribute to their gender-based street harassment experience. (And of course, there are many people who can’t type on a computer due to their disabilities, like my sister wouldn’t be able to if she were alive, so their stories in general are lost in this format unless they’re told by others.) I did find one story, however, in the comment section of a street harassment post on the F Word blog in the UK which has stuck with me, so I’m re-posting it here.
Anon said: There’s a low-level harassment that seems go without saying, but sometimes things happen that stick. Men have often kicked, grabbed or forcefully pushed me (even at the top of stair cases) when I’m out in my wheelchair. It’s scary. Sometimes it’s just plain hurtful. Once or twice, I’ve been in a shop waiting to pay for something and the man behind me decides to wheel me out of the line. Just like that!
The first time I went out in my wheelchair my mum and I were so shocked when an aggressive man leaned over me, shook my wheelchair and quickly thrust his groin in my face as he squeezed past. There was about three feet of space in front of us he could have easily used without pressing up against me or moving my chair at all. I was sixteen. The second and third time a man did “the groin thing” it still bothered me. Now I just see it as something that happens but it’s still upsetting to think about.
On good days I walk, and my disability is completely invisable to the rest of the world. On some “walking days” I feel incredibly vulnerable. Three years ago, on one of these vulnerable walking days, a man cornered me in a park. I was 18, he seemed about 40. I’m petite, fragile from my disability and slender. He had huge muscles and stood head and shoulder over me. He leered. He gave me this grin and nodded his head over and over and over again as he looked me over. He goes, “Yeeeeah. Oh yeah,” and keeps nodding and grinning. I felt sick. My heart was pounding and I didn’t know what to do. How do I get out of it? How do I make him go away? It took me three years to go back to the park he scared me so much. I felt dirty. I felt ashamed. I even blamed myself. It was a hot day but I flung on two jumpers when I got home to cover myself up. I wanted to take a shower so I could somehow shower him away and how he looked at me, but that would involve taking off the jumpers. I couldn’t do that. Didn’t want to be seen, even alone in my bathroom…”
My heart goes out to her. No one should be disrespected like this or feel so unsafe or unwelcome in public.
Do you have any stories to share about yourself or others relating to gender-based street harassment compounded with harassment for having disabilities?