The Pixel Project is pleased to share the fifth annual blog list of 16 memorable stories of women dealing with street harassment which has been kindly compiled by Holly Kearl, Founder of our partner, Stop Street Harassment, and one of our 16 Female Role Models of 2010.
Through Facebook and her Stop Street Harassment website, Holly receives and shares stories of women fighting back against street harassment. She shares these stories to help raise awareness of this particular type of violence against women as well as provide inspiration and ideas for everyone on making public places and spaces safe for women. Almost 100% of women and girls experience street harassment in their lifetimes, ranging from the uncomfortable to the downright dangerous.
This list provides a starting point for all to learn about and discuss the impact of street harassment. We hope it’ll inspire you to take action.
It’s time to stop violence against women. Together.
– Regina Yau, Founder and President, The Pixel Project
All visuals courtesy of Stop Street Harassment.
Empowering Response #1: #WhatMySHSaid – Instagram
Chloe Parker has been harassed since she was 12 years old. Now 17, she started an Instagram hashtag #WhatMySHSaid where people write their age and location and what their street harasser said to them. Many posts are liked thousands of times. Chloe wrote, “The average age is twelve [for the story submissions] and the average reaction is disbelief, but with the topic comes horrible responses as well. I have heard people defending these pedophiles who creep on these girls, or say that street harassment is because of what the girl was wearing. We live in a culture of blaming the victims, and by saying a twelve-year-old is asking to be followed as she walks home from school is a testament to this. We as a society can and should change this culture that we promote and live in. It should not be up to the victims to change their lives and patterns to make harassers comfortable. This is not a problem that should be ignored.”
Empowering Response #2: Parking Attendant Woes – Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
Every day for two weeks as a woman left a parking garage in Charlotte, North Carolina, the parking attendant would stare at her and say he wanted to see her smile and other similar remarks. She felt uneasy, and, as he continued day after day, she felt anxious and stressed. One day she pa0nicked and drove away while he was still talking. She resolved to talk to him and the next day. She asked him to stop telling her to smile as it made her feel uncomfortable. He said okay. She wrote, “I hope he’ll think before he makes these unwanted comments to anyone else. I didn’t complain to the company since he made an indication of respecting my wishes. I don’t plan to park there any more since I don’t want to see him again, but being able to say something took such a weight off my shoulders. I didn’t even realise how much this was affecting me until after I said something.”
Empowering Response #3: Standing Up Against Harassers – Kabul, Afghanistan
After witnessing a friend drop out of school because of harassment, Shafi in Kabul, Afghanistan, began standing up to harassers. She wrote, “Whenever I see people harassing girls or women in streets and university, I go to them and talk reasonably with them to stop them and explain to them that their act is wrong. I ask what if it happens to their sister or mother, what then? Now it is the time for everyone to start vanishing this bad and shameful culture. Yes, if we want to change then we can. We can start it right now!”
Empowering Response #4: Ladders Are Useful Items
Empowering Response #5: Caught on CCTV
After a drunk man grabbed a woman on a subway and kissed her, she reported him to the transit police. They found him on the train’s CCTV and circulated his image to local police stations. She wrote, “If you experience street harassment, report it to the police. It will make you feel proactive and powerful – and they might even catch the perpetrator.”
Empowering Response #6: No Free Pass for the Police – San Jose, CA, USA
A woman in San Jose, California, noticed a police sergeant (not in uniform) exposing himself and masturbating in a car. She turned away but he drove his car and parked so she had to see him again. She took photos of him and his license plate and he fled. She filed a police report and the investigators discovered he was a 13-year veteran of the police department. He was arrested and placed on administrative leave.
Empowering Response #7: Taking Harassment Seriously – Liverpool, United Kingdom
Two men in a car in Liverpool, UK, harassed a Russian woman. She felt too scared to say anything, but she ran back, called the police, reported what happened and gave their license plate number. She wrote, “The inspector rang me back to make sure I know they take it seriously. Then after an hour a female officer came to see me. It turned out it was a crime as section 5 public order offence, besides it was gender-based. The officer visited his house, etc. He now has a criminal record. Ladies, you don’t have to take this shit!”
Empowering Response #8: Facing Down Harassers… and Winning! – Tennesee, USA
When Bryanna was in college in Tennessee, a group of men would hang out by the door and harass her daily with sexual slurs. She felt humiliated and would try to run past them before they could say anything. But one day she decided to confront them. She wrote, “They whistled and said, ‘Damn!’ really loudly. So I turned around, marched right up to them (at least eight of them) and shouted, ‘What do you expect to happen from this? Do you really think a girl will turn around and say ‘Oh wow that’s such a compliment, being told my ass is fine by these complete strangers. Do you want to hook up?’ Has it worked for you yet?’ By the look on their stunned faces, I answered for them, ‘No, I didn’t think so. Get a life!’ and stormed off. The rush I felt was incomparable to anything else. I felt strong – like I could take care of myself.”
Empowering Response #9: Singing Against Harassment
Singer Empress Of wrote a song about street harassment called “Kitty Kat.” She said in an interview, “I remember a stranger saying something nasty to me on the street while walking home. I was so mad, but I couldn’t say anything back at that moment. What would be the point? When I got back I started to work on this aggressive sound on a track. As soon as I turned the mic on to record, I started to sing what I wanted to say to that guy on the street, but now I get to sing it every night in front of a crowd.”
Empowering Response #10: “That’s NOT a compliment!” – San Diego, CA, USA
A woman was walking her dog through downtown San Diego, California, when a man told her, “You have no idea how badly I want to play with your boobs.” She told him that his comment was inappropriate and he apologised. But then he told her she should “take it as a compliment.” She had already passed him, but turned around to yell back, “That’s NOT a compliment!” She wrote, “Let the harasser know what he is doing is wrong and unwelcome and that it’s not a compliment in order to help convert him to viewing it as a bad thing.”
After weeks of trying various tactics for dealing with street harassers along her route to work in the UK (the harassment included men purposely blocking her path), Poppy Smart took the matter to the police. She said in an interview, “It made me feel really uncomfortable and the fact it went on for so long was the main reason I reported it. If it had just been an isolated incident – one, two, three, four times – maybe I could probably brush it off because these things happen and you have to kind of accept these people’s ignorance.” Poppy says she spoke to the owner of the building site. “He just sort of apologised. He obviously can’t control all of his staff all of the time and I appreciated that. I just wanted them to realise it is offensive and I wanted it to stop.” Her story sparked a national debate about the issue.
Empowering Response #12: Sanctuary from Harassment – New York City, USA
A man on the train in New York City rubbed his penis against a woman’s butt. She elbowed him but he kept doing it. Because of the crowd, she couldn’t easily get away. A woman nearby noticed what was happening and gave up her seat for her saying, “Come sit down, that man is trying to rub himself on you!”
Empowering Response #13: Not Remaining Silent – London, United Kingdom
Y.E. in London, UK, was the target of public masturbation on the Tube. No one else was on and when she moved away, he followed her, only zipping up his pants after a man entered the carriage. When YE got off the train, he followed and she ran to report him to a transit worker. The police took her report. She also decided to write about what happened. “I hesitated several times whilst starting to write this and contemplated just keeping it to myself, considering the crude nature of this incident. However, it has come to my attention that this is no longer becoming a ‘once in a blue moon issue’ and it could have easily been burdened on a child, family member, or another member of the public. Looking back at the past struggles in history, since when has any change occurred from remaining silent?”
Aila in Romania used to face harassment from high school students as she walked from her hostel to the university. Now she and a group of other women at the NGO FILIA are in the process of working with that high school to bring street harassment awareness workshops to the students. She wrote, “Change can be done. I am not a victim anymore, I am a person who can bring change and can help the other girls who are still living in that hostel.”
Empowering Response #15: Open Letter Tactic – Washington D.C., USA
Sara in Washington, DC wrote an open letter to the man who harassed her. In it, she thanked a woman who spoke up. “To the woman on the sidewalk who said, ‘That’s so rude’ and shook her head when he drove off, thank you. Your three simple words in solidarity were my saving grace and snap back to reality, that no one, not even myself, has the right to disrespect my body. So, dear man in the blue minivan, I will use my body in the best way I know how — to share this story and inspire others to feel a little braver when they step into a crosswalk. To be what the woman on the sidewalk was to me: solidarity.”
Empowering Response #16: Reporting an Unwanted Grope – San Francisco, CA, USA
After a man groped AB at a shopping mall in San Francisco, California, she dropped her bag and ran after him. She lost him, but filed a police report. She wrote, “I’ve been harassed many times, but I’d never run after someone. Something snapped in me. And something broke when no one would help. I was proud that enough was finally enough, and I did something, even though he got away with it. At the very least, it’s caused me to talk about it and snap back when I get hollered at on the street.”