Word on the Street: Why Dialogue is the Best Approach to Casual Sexual Harassment

 Image by Laura Berger

 

The spotlight on sexual harassment has indeed gotten brighter with the onset of the ‘Me Too’ movement, including media coverage and more open public dialogue on the issue. However, the extent of casual forms of sexual harassment and assault, predominantly faced by young women on a regular basis, seems underrepresented in comparison. This might be because the perpetrators are always different, encountered in passing or in situations where it feels impossible to call them out. 

 

This year, I will be noting every time I experience a form of ‘casual’ sexual harassment; not to dwell on it, or even to report it, but to have an overview of a whole 365 days of a young woman in London and the experiences that accompany this lifestyle. I hope this will be channelled into a positive dialogue, in which others feel more comfortable to speak out about assault, especially in those forms perceived to be mundane due to their frequent nature. I too have ‘brushed it under the carpet’ when an incident as such happens on a night out and my friends and I decide it’s ‘not worth it’ or ‘pointless’ to try to speak up against it. 

 

Support must come first in response; empowerment is all about support, which starts with showing solidarity – saying ‘I hear you’, or ‘I’m sorry you had to experience that, I’ve been through something similar’. Asking the right questions is secondary to this – not, ‘how short was your skirt though?’, ‘but did you lead him on?’ or ‘did you smile at him?’ – in order to find a suitable way to overcome the anxiety or trauma that has stemmed from these experiences. 

 

However, female empowerment cannot only come from women; men’s inaction against sexual harassment or assault will only disempower women. Empowerment needs to come from allied men, who can educate themselves in understanding these experiences, and to call out friends or other men, who consistently remain unscathed from treating people as sexual entities. 

 

Casual forms sexual harassment and assault can easily be overlooked by us all, because when something happens in an overtly public place, the majority of bystanders are too afraid to speak out against something they have witnessed. It seems that no matter what year it is, there is a societal and systemic fear of addressing these casual, forms of harassment that pass us by, whether on the street, on public transportation or in a nightclub.

 

Logging my own experiences this January started as a tally, but I eventually decided to add a description of each event to my notes. Each time, I experienced something that made me feel uncomfortable or unsafe enough to record nine times in a month. That’s over twice a week. The mental space that these experiences can occupy has the ability to throw your whole week off balance, when normal walks home after dark become UberX trips that I really can’t afford.

 

JANUARY 2020: A DIARY LOG 

01.01.2020

Man in club touching and trying to thrust on me.

 

07.01.2020

Man in crowded tube pressing his groin/ penis area onto my back. This would have been avoidable even if it was rush hour.

 

17.01.2020

Men in van heckling.

 

20.01.2020,

Café worker telling me to say hi to the chefs so they could ‘get a look at me’ *laughing and comments when I didn’t react*

 

21.01.2020

Uber pool home from night out, another passenger gets in car next to me and talks to me in a sexualising way. Uber driver had no power to ask him to leave the car, even though I asked, because the passenger would give him a bad rating.

 

27.01.2020

Man on bus, winking, smiling and staring.

 

29.01.2020 

Man on tube staring at me and getting closer until I got off at my stop.

 

25.01.2020 

Man in club touches me, from behind and tries to stroke me, until he sees the male person I am with and apologises to him for touching me.

 

30.01.2020

Man on bicycle approaches me on pavement, cycles next to me, slows down, comes closer and comments on my appearance, shouts ‘you fucking bitch’ as he cycles off, when I tell him to leave me alone.

 

For more information visit: http://www.stopstreetharassment.org

 

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