Several years ago, when I was a student in, I was on a long walk at night with a female friend. We walked past a stretch of several bars, with tons of people hanging around on the sidewalk. As we passed, a guy called after us, asking if we had a cigarette. I ignored him, but he kept asking and was soon following us, along with another guy. Finally I turned and said no firmly, and we sped up a little, trying to get back to the hotel where my friend was staying.
We reached a parking lot near an open plaza, by which point they’d caught up to us. One of them reached under my coat and grabbed my ass, then pulled on my hair. I had a scarf knotted around my neck, and he yanked hard on the end so that it was pulled tight against my throat. They were circling us, shouting things. I can’t recall what they were saying because I panicked and was incoherent. I yelled no several times, in german and in english. I was crying. I saw some people in a parked car nearby, so I ran to the car and knocked on the window. The people ignored me and drove away.
Fortunately, the guys were somewhat deterred by my attempt to get help, and we had a second to escape. We started running. I could still feel them following us, and by the time we got to the front door of the hotel where my friend was staying, they had caught up again. Breathing hard, we frantically unlocked the door and slammed it shut in their faces. I feel lucky that I escaped unharmed (much worse things have happened to women in similar situations), but I’ve never felt so scared in my life.
I also felt guilty. When I panicked, the harassment became more intense. I can only assume they found my reaction humorous. For a long time, I constantly questioned myself–did I do something stupid? Was I overreacting? Did I bring it upon myself? Was it because I was a foreigner?
The worst thing is, the next day, we told the hotel concierge (who was, alarmingly, a female) what had happened, hoping my friend could cancel her reservation since she no longer felt safe at the hotel (they knew our location and could easily come back and find us if they wanted). We were summarily dismissed and told that it was “safe here.”
I shouldn’t make assumptions like this, and it may sound overly defensive, but I can’t help but think that her response stems partially from the wider belief that Americans are obtuse and unnecessarily obsessed with “political correctness.” After such a frightening experience, it was really insulting and discouraging for our warranted caution to be so callously disregarded. More than that, it speaks to an extreme lack of awareness regarding the severity of street harassment and how quickly even the most harmless-seeming “attention” can escalate into a seriously dangerous situation.