A Jewish woman’s stories (part 3 of 3)

June 17, 2010

I have had 3 unpleasant incidences of street harassment, and this was the latest and worst [read incidents 1 and 2].

I live in New Jersey and my boyfriend lives in Manhattan, and we only see each other on the weekends. We therefore try to squeeze in as much time together as possible, which frequently results in me waiting in Penn Station for a train late at night.

On this particular night, I was waiting at midnight on the top of the steps leading from a busy corridor into the NJ Transit concourse. I saw a black man in a black winter hat walking through the concourse below me, holding an open pack of Newport cigarettes. He got to me and offered me one. I turned him down. He then offered me a new MetroCard, still wrapped. Nonplussed, I told him that I already had one. He made some comment about my jeans which I didn’t catch, then tried to put his arm around my back, (a move which I can’t stand thanks to my first encounter with street harassment,) and I flinched away. He commented on it, and added, “You’re not PREJUDICED or anything, right? It’s not because I’m BLACK, is it?”

I replied, “No, I’m not prejudiced. I just really don’t like strangers touching me.”

He then got me to exchange names and shake hands (he’d made me feel like I had to prove that I wasn’t racist), held my hand too long, and said, “Your hand is cold.” I said, “I just came in from outside!” He then held my hand a second longer, let go, said, “Have a good night, baby,” and disappeared.

I felt hideously violated, even though all he’d done was touch my back and make comments. I felt like he hadn’t done anything that the police would act on, plus I wasn’t sure where the nearest police booth was, so I didn’t report it.

However, I started having massive anxiety attacks at the thought of being in Penn Station after 9 PM, which resulted in my spending an extra night with my boyfriend several times. It was weeks before I managed to face my fear and go back to my normal routine, and then it was only with the help of my boyfriend accompanying me to the station that I did so. I had the worst anxiety attack I’ve had in years the night my boyfriend accompanied me from his apartment at 10 PM, but I am now back to my regular routine. However, I now carry pepper spray, and I know the locations of the police booths around the NJ Transit area. (Ironically, I was only yards away from one, though that booth is not always occupied.)

I am furious – no man should ever have the power to make a woman afraid to do *anything!*

– HD

Location: Penn Station, NYC

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Include your location and it will be added to the Street Harassment Map.

Join focus group on NYC subway safety!

December 9, 2009

Cross-posted from New Yorkers for Safe Transit:

Do you feel safe riding NYC’s public transit system? Give yourself and others a voice, by sharing your mass transit experiences.

In mid-January, NYFST will be hosting two focus groups for survivors of gender and discrimination-based violence and harassment on New York City’s public transportation system.

We’re seeking focus group participants for two 2 hour sessions (6-8 p.m.). We are interested in hearing first-hand accounts from women, people of color, LGBTQGNC individuals, youth, and low-income individuals.

With your help, we will be able to raise public awareness on this issue and continue progress towards eliminating harassment and violence on mass transit.

Please spread the word and contact us at info@nyfst.org to sign up and more information on dates and location.

Light refreshments will be served and $4.50 MetroCards will be provided.

Also, be sure to share & submit your NYC mass transit stories.

Women Run Taxi Service in Beirut

July 25, 2009

Lebanon joins other countries like England, Russia, Australia, Iran, India, and the United Arab Emirates in having women-run taxi services. From the Wall Street Journal (there’s a video too if you click on the video tab):

“Nawal Fakhri, 45 years old, founder of Banet Taxi… launched Banet Taxi in March with just three cars and three drivers. Her fleet of late-model Peugeots has grown five-fold since then with enough drivers to provide 24-hour service. She is hoping to double her fleet this summer, to 24 cars.

The company is part of a regional trend. Entrepreneurs across the Middle East have recognized the business potential in offering secure transportation options for women. Banet Taxi follows on the heels of successful women-only transportation models in Dubai, Tehran and Cairo….

“One of my daughters is 15 years old and I send her in this taxi all the time, especially at night … and not have to worry.”

It is the promise of a safe and uneventful ride that attracts a wide range of female passengers: older women who want a quiet drive, young women out partying until late at night, and even preschoolers put in the cars by their teachers.

Passengers’ reasons for choosing Banet are based, in part, on their cultural and religious backgrounds. Beirut’s population breaks down roughly into thirds, Christian, Sunni and Shiite. Conservative Muslim women might take Banet Taxi to accommodate rules against traveling with unknown men. Others just want to put comfort and safety first.

“I studied Lebanese society well and my first customer is the Lebanese woman,” says Ms. Fakhri. “I am well aware that I could be making a lot more money with this if I also accepted male customers, but to me it is clear that in Lebanon, women need a service like this.”

Lebanon has no shortage of women who are skittish about taking regular taxis. Reporting of sexual harassment remains low in a country with much taboo surrounding abuse and victimhood.

Yasmine Hajjar, a 23-year-old student in Beirut, says most of her female friends have a story about being harassed in a taxi. In one extreme example, she says she narrowly escaped being abducted by a taxi driver when she was 15 years old — by pulling out her knife and holding it to the driver’s throat.

“I think the pink taxis are a good thing,” says Ms. Hajjar. “It’s the safest way to go.”

It’s interesting how many of these women run taxi services are cropping up around the globe. As I’ve said many times, ideally, I’d love to have cultures socialize men not to harass women and make there be stiff consequences if they do, but in the meantime, I love seeing women like Ms. Fakhri take matters into their own hands and create safer ways for women to travel. Kudos to her.

RightRides in New York City is a small nonprofit that provides rides home to women, transgender, and queer people for a few hours on Friday and Saturday nights in most neighborhoods across the NYC-metro area.  At least one of the two volunteers per car must be female. Unlike the for-profit programs in other countries, they offer their service free of charge. They always need more volunteers and money to keep running, so check them out.

NYC Harasser with Badge and Authority

July 1, 2009

When serious street harassment and assault occurs, it’d be nice to think we can call the cops or run and find an officer to help. I can recall about a dozen or so people whose stories I’ve read who have asked for help from cops and they’ve found responses to be mixed, from hearing “what do you expect” to complete indifference to concern to receiving active help in trying to catch the perpetrator. So the (unsurprising) lesson I take away is there’s a chance you’ll get the help you need and there’s a chance you won’t (so we need to educate cops and hold them responsible for helping so that the chances of getting help improve)!

In this context, the following story caught my eye because it shows the kind of luck you may have if you approach a cop in NYC for help with a street harasser. Via Gothamist:

“Greenpoint resident Chrissie Brodigan says she was riding on the L train between Bedford and First Avenue when her pug, who has health problems, overheated and began vomiting in the tote bag she was carrying him in. As she was leaving the subway station with the dog in her arms, she says a police officer’s attempt to issue her a ticket turned ugly, and when she became upset the cop began saying, “If you’re going to act like a woman I’m going to treat you like a woman.”

[In a second article, Gothamist reports witness Jason Wagner said the officer told her, “Do you wanna talk like a woman? Do you wanna get knocked around like a woman?”]

According to Brodigan, the arresting officer’s name is Witriol (badge number 942838). After seeing a photo, she identified him to us as Joel Witriol, who in 2006 became New York’s first Hasidic cop. Brodigan, 32, says Witriol would not accept her explanation that she was carrying the pug because it was sick, and she believes that the disturbed crowd that gathered to witness the arrest only made him angrier. She tells us, “He punched me in the back (there are bruises), he handcuffed me, and in the scuffle grabbed my breasts and pinched them.”

Via Gothamist. Click on image to see more photos
Via Gothamist. Photos from the subway are on the link too

Melissa Randazzo, a speech language pathologist who lives in Williamsburg, witnessed the arrest and tells us, “something about it seemed very wrong. The cop’s tone seemed really inappropriate and he kept saying things like, ‘Are you going to act like a woman?’ She tried to walk away, and then he grabbed her and pushed her against the wall outside the turnstile.” Randazzo ran up to the street level to call 911 to, as she says, “call the cops” on Witriol, and soon some 20 officers had descended into the Bedford station. They then ordered the witnesses to disperse.”

Brodigan was arrested, handcuffed and jailed and the cops threatened to take her dog to the pound to be put down. She received three tickets for failing to produce ID, disorderly conduct, and failing to have dog in a container. When she was released she asked for a pen to write down their badge numbers but they refused. They did return her pug.

The New York Post printed a similar story, though it says one witness claims Brodigan made anti-Semitic insults to the officer, however, other witnesses and Brodigan deny this. Hopefully this is untrue, but even if it was, would it justify physically harming her?

On the other hand, no one denies that the officer spewed misogynistic filth or that he left bruises on her body. It’s quite chilling for women to realize there are men with these attitudes out there who are supposed to be “protecting” us from harassers, but in reality, they are harassers too, just with badges and authority.

No, no, and no!

May 15, 2009

After a night at an expensive NYC restaurant for my friend’s birthday, a few of us were trying to hail a cab. First a taxi full of older men pulled up and said “You girls looking for a good time?” Then a van with another bunch of men stopped near us and shouted “Hey, you girls want some cock?” Then another car pulled up and told us to get in, and even when we said no, the driver shouted after us. This was all in the span of about five to ten minutes at the longest.