Denied Peace of Mind

August 20, 2009

I’m skipping work for a few days to write a few chapters of my street harassment book. Near the hotel where I’m staying (to flee distractions), there is a beautiful trail alongside the Potomac River and before buckling down to write yesterday and today I went for a run on it. Having never run there before though, I ran with my phone and kept alert and I ran in a different direction each day. I quickly found out that the trail was isolated, deserted, and mostly far from any roads, buildings, or even people. The beauty of the scenery was dimmed by my hyper awareness of every unusual sound and nervousness when I passed by a few lone men because of the isolation. No one harassed or attacked me but, as any woman who is out alone in a deserted area knows, there is rarely relief from the fear that one day you’ll be the wrong woman in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This afternoon, after more than six hours of writing and a self-imposed internet ban, I came online to do a bit more research for the chapter I’m writing. When I also checked e-mail, I saw a friend had sent me a relevant link to an article in the Phildalphia Daily News called “Staying safe on the run” about the harassment and risk of assault women runners, including the article author, regularly face. She shares a recent story about being harassed while on a run and then highlights some of the women who have been in the news recently because they were abducted or assualted while running.

Ugh. As a runner, I have had men honk and whistle and make kissing noises at me, some have said sexually explicit comments, and two men followed me on two separate occasions, one by car and another on foot. As precautions against assault, I rarely run with music, I mix up my routes and the time of day I run so I don’t become predictable, I don’t run in the dark, and if I am running somewhere new, I usually run with my phone. Sometimes I wish I was a man because that would make being a runner so much easier.

Aside from my own experiences and those detailed in the Philly article, in the last few months I’ve reported on a female runner being attacked in New York, followed in Delaware, and murdered in Vancouver. I plan to address the particular issues that face women runners – and walkers and cyclists – in my book in a chapter that details ways women alter their lives because of actual or feared harassment.

Wouldn’t it be nice if men never harassed or assaulted women? Then we could run in peace and with peace of mind.

North London

June 29, 2009

The road close to my street in London is a constant location for harassment. Men hang out in the cafes on the road and leer at passing women in a sometimes threatening, always horrible way. My housemate understandably refuses to walk down the road, I refuse not to.

On Friday night I was walking home at 1 a.m and I was pursued by a man who kept calling out to me. He then started shouting abusively when I became nervous and sped off home, somehow he was offended that a woman walking home late alone would become nervous when pursued by a random stranger. On Sunday, returning from the shops a couple of guys harassed me and turned verbally abusive when I told them where to get off. Action really needs to be taken about this, I’ve considered complaining to my local council. Otherwise I might end up flykicking a stranger in the street!


Location: North London, England

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So our daughters can be safe

June 6, 2009

At my job this week, I got to help with a big college women student leaders conference. One of the speakers today was Naomi Tutu, a leader and activist in her own right, and one of the daughters of Archbishop Desmond Tutu (a Nobel Peace Prize winner etc). During a Q&A after she spoke to the students, one person asked what inspires her when she’s tired and doesn’t have the energy to get out of bed and face another battle that day. Naomi said she thinks of the women who came before her (like her mother and grandmother who had harder lives than she but had the strength to persevere) and the women who will come after her. She said she has two daughters and that the human rights work she does is so that her daughters will be able to walk anywhere they want and still be safe. The audience burst into applause.

On days when I feel discouraged, those are the women who I think of as well — all the women who came before me who fought hard for the rights I enjoy today, and the women who will come after me. If I ever have a daughter and a son, I want to know I’ve done all I can to make sure that the daughter has the same freedom to move about in public spaces as her brother.

If women cannot be safe or free from harassment in public (or private spheres, which is another but related story altogether) there will never be equality. It is the right of each of us to be safe in public.

naomi tutu smaller

Too afraid to leave the house without men

April 13, 2009

I’ve had very little trouble from strangers, but I think that’s because I’m excessively paranoid. I’ve been molested by three different people now, and the little street harassment I get hits very hard. I always want to be mean and abrasive, to teach them a lesson, but instead I just freeze up until I can run. But mostly people leave me alone, since I basically never leave the house without a male escort…is that the purpose of street harassment? To keep women, even lesbians, too afraid to leave the house without men?


Subway Rape Leads to Trial vs NYC Transit

October 7, 2008

Three years ago a young woman was raped on a deserted subway platform in New York City. While a toll booth attendant and subway driver both saw and called the police, they did nothing more to help her or stop the attacker. The police arrived a long ten minutes later.  This news article details what happened – but warning, it’s very upsetting to read parts of it. This brave young woman is suing the NYC Transit and her trial in civil court will be heard soon (don’t know the date). I will be anxious to hear how it goes.

The young woman took the subway at 2 a.m. and she was the only person in the subway car with her attacker and the only one on the platform when she got off and he pursued her. She thought she would be safe and I wish she had been. If you live in NYC and don’t feel safe taking the subway home late Saturday nights, contact RightRides. They offer women, transgender and queer folks free, safe rides home late Saturday nights in numerous NYC neighborhoods. They always need volunteers & donations to keep their program going and to expand their services, so considering getting involved/helping them out!