In follow-up to yesterday’s post, I was able to connect with Jen Corey, the current Miss D.C. She graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me about her experiences with street harassment to help raise awareness about this issue.
(And if you’re in the Washington, D.C. area, you can catch her tomorrow on NBC’s “Daily Connection” from 2-3 p.m. EDT. She will be speaking about her harassment experiences. UPDATE – awesome news clip from Miss D.C. from NBC and around minute 3:30 she mentions HollaBack DC! and Stop Street Harassment)
HK: How old were you when boys or men started harassing you in public places?
JC: I was probably about 12 or 13. I was very tall for my age (about 5’8″ in middle school) so men assumed I was much older. It actually happened in front of my mom frequently and she would have to step in and say something.
HK: About how often do men harass you in public places?
JC: Extremely often. I work in Georgetown so I would say most days of the week as I’m walking down the crowded streets for lunch, someone will say something or stop in front of me and look me up and down. I also take the metro every day so I get yelled at from cars while walking to and from the metro.
HK: What impact does street/public harassment have on your life?
JC: It’s been very upsetting. I had a traumatizing experience a few years ago in Adams Morgan. I was getting all of my girl friends into a cab in front of the McDonald’s. I was the last to get in and as I was standing there, a car full of men pulled up behind me and a large man reached out and slapped me so hard on my backside that I fell face first into the cab. My friends didn’t even realize what happened at first because it sounded like a car had run over a water bottle. The men just laughed and drove away while I stood in the street crying. There were officers on the side of the road, but they did nothing. My cab driver yelled at me to get into the cab so we could follow the car, but by then I was in pain and just wanted to go home. I had a bruise on my chin and a black and blue hand print on my backside for a week.
I refused to go back there for a long time. And when I first started going back I would demand to stay sober, thinking that I could “protect” the other girls I was with.
HK: Do you feel the harassment has changed since you became Miss DC? If so, how?
JC: I don’t think it’s changed because most of the time that it happens now, I am not wearing my crown and sash. It’s just as frequent. It happens when I’m all dressed up going to an event, or when I’m leaving the gym with my hair in a ponytail wearing sweats.
HK: Where do you draw the line regarding what you find to be acceptable and unacceptable interactions between strangers in public?
JC: I don’t want to be disrespected. More than anything, I don’t want to be touched. Don’t grab my hand when I walk by and ask me “where’s your smile?” Don’t walk past me, stop and look me up and down saying “daaammmnnnnn.” I don’t expect every guy to leave me alone when I’m out, and I don’t even mind cheesy pick up lines. I just want to be respected and I don’t think that it’s too much to ask.
HK: How do you usually respond to harassers and what response/s has/have been the most empowering for you?
CJ: Well I definitely don’t go around hitting them, although, this incident over the weekend was not the first time I had to. I used to ignore it, but now I assess the situation (and my potential risk of getting hurt) and act accordingly. Most of the time I get in their face (since I’m almost 6 feet tall, we look eye to eye) and say something like, “Did you really think that was going to work?” or “Don’t touch me. I’m bigger than you.” And I always tell another guy that I know or think I can trust near by about what happened. This way if the creep comes back, I have someone else backing me up.
HK: Do you have any suggestions for other women about how to deal with this kind of harassment?
CJ: Don’t ignore it. That’s the problem. Certain men do this because they think they can get away with it. If you don’t feel comfortable doing something yourself, then tell someone near by.
HK: Do you have any ideas or plans for addressing this issue in DC?
CJ: I will be going on NBC on Wednesday, May 26, to talk about the issue. If I can be a voice for other women who are fed up, then I will do whatever I can to make things right.
This is not OK or something we should ignore. Getting grabbed is NOT just something that’s part of the bar scene and should be accepted. I have every right, as an American, to go out and not be touched or hit.
I am so glad Jen is speaking out about this. All women should have the right to go places without experiencing unwanted touching and harassment from men. Find ideas for what you can do to help end this problem. And if you’re in the DC area, check out the anti-street harassment work of HollaBack DC! and Defend Yourself and how you can get involved.