June 18, 2010

Every morning on my way to work, I ride the same bus. I have been riding this bus for 3 years. A couple of months ago, I started noticing that this middle-aged white male in business suit attire would stare at me continually for the duration of the bus ride. He sits sideways in his seat so that he can swivel his head 180 degrees and see me no matter where I sit on the bus – in front of him, behind him, to the side; it doesn’t matter where I sit because he’ll adjust his posture to find me. His constant leering makes me incredibly uncomfortable and ruins my morning commute.

In the beginning, I stared back, hoping to make him uncomfortable. One time I mouthed the word, “NO,” and shook my head at him. These passive attempts have had no effect and he continues to ogle me.

Yesterday, I was waiting for my bus to return home and all of a sudden this same man was standing next to me. I had my hands full of two heavy grocery bags and felt completely defenseless. I started to feel scared that he was beginning to stalk me. He knows what stop I get off/on the bus. What’s to stop him from following me home one afternoon?

Today I was close to standing up from my seat on the bus and saying something to him. I want to say, “Stop staring at me,” loudly so that everyone on the bus can hear me. I think that the more people who witness assertive actions against harassment the better because the peer effect is incredibly strong. Another option I’ve considered is simply writing or typing out “STOP STARING AT ME” on a piece of paper and giving it to him.

This is by far the worst “street” harassment I’ve experienced in my 13 years riding public transportation. I would say that I experience harassment from men on a daily basis while out on the street/at work/shopping, etc., but never to this extreme on a bus.

I consider myself to be a very tough person and am used to living in an urban environment where one has to constantly deflect “attacks,” but I didn’t realize how damaging mere leering could be. When I was in Chicago this past weekend, I saw advertisements on the CTA which read: “If it’s unwanted, it’s harassment. Touching. Rude Comments. Leering. Speak up. If you see something, say something.” After reading that, I realized that I didn’t even know that this kind of harassment was something I didn’t HAVE to endure. I just accepted it as life.

Minneapolis public transit NEEDS these advertisements on its buses and trains. The more people who are exposed to these sorts of messages, the more likely it is that this kind of harassment will cease. I find it sad that we need to tell men how to behave in 2010. Our society is going backwards.

– anonymous

Location: Minneapolis, MN

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.

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.

Sex segregated bus lines

June 10, 2010

Many times when I talk about my dissatisfaction with women-only public transportation initiatives in countries like Japan, Brazil, India, and Mexico, created as a response to sexual harassment on public transportation, I cite the fact that it doesn’t stop men from harassing women at the bus or subway stop. Consequently, I believe that governments should focus on why sexual harassment is occurring and address those issues, otherwise people will still find places and ways to harass each other, regardless of segregated transportation.

Now in Central Jakarta, India, instead of addressing why harassment is occurring, the government is segregating people by creating two lines for women and men to stand in when they wait for a bus! This is the first time I’ve heard about a city initiating segregation in this way and for the purpose of helping to minimize crime and sexual harassment.

Interestingly, their bus system is not one where there is sex segregation on board. So men can still harass women on the bus. Men passing by the bus stop can easily harass women in the line and probably men in the male line can harass across the way to the women in line too, if they wanted. So I don’t see this as helping curb the issue of harassment.

What do you think?

Woman stands at the women-only bus line. Image via Jakarta Post

80-100% of women are street harassed

November 30, 2009

Various studies show that 80 to 100 percent of women have experienced street harassment. A significant percentage of women say this regularly happens to them on public transportation.

Summaries of three of 11 recent studies include:

A 2002 survey of Beijing, China, citizens showed that 70 percent had been subjected to a form of sexual harassment. Most people said it occurred on public transportation, including 58 percent who said it occurred on the bus.[i]

During the summer of 2003, members of the Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team in Chicago surveyed 168 neighborhood girls ages 13 to 19 about street harassment and interviewed 134 more in focus groups. They published their findings in a report titled “Hey Cutie, Can I Get Your Digits?” Of their respondents, 86 percent had been catcalled on the street, 36 percent said men harassed them daily, and 60 percent said they felt unsafe walking in their neighborhoods.[ii]

In Yemen, the Yemen Times conducted a survey on teasing and sexual harassment in Sana’a in 2009. Ninety percent of the 70 interviewees from Sana’a said they had been sexually harassed in public. Seventy-two percent of the women said they were called sexually-charged names while walking on the streets and 20 percent of this group said it happens on a regular basis. About 37 percent of the sample said they had experienced physical harassment. Being veiled did not seem to lessen the harassment.[iii]

We need many more studies to better track the extent of the problem of street harassment. The more we know, the more informed strategies we can use to address the root causes and work on prevention strategies.

[i] “Harassment rampant on public transportation,” Shanghi Star, 11 April 2002, http://app1.chinadaily.com.cn/star/2002/0411/cn8-4.html (15 March 2009).

[ii] Amaya N. Roberson, “Anti-Street Harassment,” Off Our Backs, May-June 2005, page 48.

[iii] “Sexual harassment deters women from outdoor activities,” Yemen Times, 21 January 2009, http://www.yementimes.com/article.shtml?i=1226&p=report&a=2 (15 March 2009).

Hearing on NYC Subway Harassment

November 20, 2009

Earlier this week I called out the New York Times for trying to compare street harassment to loud cell phone talkers and said I hoped one day they would address the problem of street harassment in a serious way. Lo and behold, yesterday they covered harassment on public transportation.

The New York Times reported on a joint hearing of three City Council committees — Transportation, Women’s Issues and Public Safety — and officials from the Police Department and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to discuss sexual harassment on subways and buses.

At the hearing everyone acknowledged that this is a big problem in New York City, especially during late morning rush hour (8 to 10 a.m.) and early afternoon rush hour (4 to 6 p.m.).  The crowded Nos. 4, 5 and 6 lines between Grand Central Terminal and Union Square, they said, is a particular source of complaints.

James P. Hall, chief of the Police Department’s Transit Bureau, said that sexual harassment was the “No. 1 quality of life offense on the subway.” As of Nov. 15, there had been 587 reports of sex offenses in the subway system this year. He said, “However, we strongly suspect this is a highly underreported crime.” I agree!

Some of my street harassment activists friends who formed New Yorkers for Safe Transit testified too.

They are working on getting better reporting methods and numbers for sexual harassment and assault on the subways. This week Councilwoman Jessica S. Lappin introduced a bill that New Yorkers for Safe Transit support, one that would require the police to collect data on sexual harassment in the subways.

“This is important because historically, harassment is overlooked by law enforcement authorities,” said Oraia Reid, a founding member of New Yorkers for Safe Transit who testified at the hearing.

Ms. Reid, who is also the executive director of RightRides for Women’s Safety, said another challenge was to get law enforcement to take the harassment more seriously.

She added, “It’s actually been very disempowering to report sexual harassment and assault.”

Yeah, like remember when a woman got a photo of a man masturbating on the subway and reported it to a police officer who then told her, incorrectly, that it wasn’t a police matter and to call 311?

Another example – one woman who took my informal anonymous survey last year and lives in NYC said one time when she reported a man that was following her in the subway station to the police, the officer said he didn’t blame the guy (implying she was pretty and so it was natural for a man to follow her…). So clearly there are police officers who need more education and training on the issues and how to help people who report harassers.

But I’m glad the NY Times covered this story and this issue. We need them to keep on doing so!

I also want to say a big GREAT JOB! to New Yorkers for Safe Transit!! They’ve only been around about a year and already they are making a huge difference in the NYC community. Check out their website and submit your NYC mass transit sexual harassment story.