I was raised to be polite, quiet, and not hurt people’s feelings, just as so many girls and women have been, and standing up to street harassers (or any harassers) is not something that comes naturally to me. I am in awe, then, of women (and people) who just go for it, who stand up to harassers no matter what, and by doing so, make the world a better place. Today, I want to mention two of them and I consider them to be heroes.
First, this evening, I had the honor to meet Nicola Briggs, the woman who made headlines last fall by calling out a subway pervert who had his penis out against her on the subway (a video of it went viral on YouTube). During the subway incident, Nicola didn’t think about being polite or ladylike, she didn’t worry about making a scene. She called the guy out loudly, got bystanders to help make sure he didn’t get away, and reported him to police. He was arrested and later convicted.
The Islip Area AAUW Branch in New York sponsored me to speak at their local library this evening and Nicola surprised me by coming to the talk! I asked her to share her story for the attendees and everyone was very impressed and inspired. I know I continue to be both impressed and inspired by her presence of mind and determination to make sure he didn’t harass any other woman. Coincidentally, she wrote a guest post on iHollaback today.
Second, today on the ACLU Blog, Robyn Shepherd shared an amazing story of standing up to a street harasser/sexual assaulter. She was on her way to work when a guy whacked her on her rear on the street. She chased the guy down yelled at him and called the police who came and helped her look for him. In the end, he got away, but it was still an important response. She writes,
“I’m realistic. I knew they were never going to arrest this guy. But here’s the thing, and the point to this whole long, profane story. I know there are a lot of people who think it wasn’t that big a deal. But the truth of the matter is, what this guy did was sexual assault. “Forcible touching and harassment,” if you want to get specific.
Sexual assault doesn’t always necessarily mean something as horrible as rape. And too often street harassment is unreported, and douchebags like this think they can get away with it because the girl is gonna be too embarrassed or too meek to do anything about it. Or they think it’s “just a slap on the ass.” And that’s not right, you guys. I don’t know how other women feel about their posteriors, but you don’t very well get to smack the hell out of it willy-nilly because you feel entitled to do so. There will be repercussions.
To the NYPD’s credit, they did follow up, and the detective told me that if I really wanted to press charges, she would help me do that, even if it meant looking through a lot of surveillance tape and looking at lineups and all that stuff. I opted not to, figuring that they had this guy’s description, and if he did it again, he’d be in a lot of trouble. But something tells me he’s not going to. I think I scared him. Or as the detective said, “So you ran up and confronted him and screamed at him in a bank.”
I know what happened to me could have been a lot, lot worse. But someone doesn’t have to be raped to be humiliated, violated and hurt. Sometimes, all it takes is a smack on the ass.”
It’s our right to be safe on the streets and the subways and buses and in stores and we don’t have to be embarrassed to call out the jerks who try to hurt and humiliate us.
Thank you, Nicola, thank you, Robyn for standing up to harassers and thank you for also sharing those stories. You inspire the rest of us who aren’t as brave to try being brave.