It is not hyperbolic to say that essentially all women experience street harassment. As a female college student in a large city, being harassed in public is an expectation. More than 80% of women worldwide will face gender-based street harassment at some point in their lives, including catcalls, stalking, groping, and many more harmful actions. And these behaviors are not as benign as many believe. Continued harassment may persuade some women to move neighborhoods, switch gyms, take a longer route to work, or constantly avoid eye contact on the street. It’s also scary. Running into a harasser on the commute from work ensures that I will be looking over my shoulder the rest of my way home.
Worse still, this type of violence is constantly minimized and ignored. I recently tweeted about a status I read on Facebook. It was posted by a female student who I know is studying abroad in France this semester. She expressed frustration with the overwhelming amount of harassment that young women are the target of on the streets of Paris. The first comment read #humblebrag. Implying, or simply stating in this case, that harassment is desired by the victim or is flattering to them is one of the clearest examples of rape culture at play. And it’s not an uncommon sentiment.
Victims of street harassment are also made to feel as though the violence is imagined or accidental, which plants guilt and doubt in the mind of the person being taken advantage of. This Halloween as I was leaving a bar, the person behind me in the massive, huddled crowd passing through the door reached over and grabbed me. I guess he was hoping that I would ignore the action in the confusion of the crowd, but when I quickly pushed his hand away and shouted to be left alone, he yelled back to relax because he was just trying to get out of the bar with everyone else, and that I was crazy to think that he would try to make a move on me. I moved as quickly as I could dart away through the people, yet this thought entered my head: “What if it was an accident? What if I overreacted?” I knew for a fact that groping the person in front of you is never a necessary step to leaving a bar, yet his all too common words still made an impact, and frightened me even more.
Luckily, Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS) is a DC organization that is working to combat street harassment, and they’re using social media to do it. (DC residents may have seen the WMATA campaign earlier this year to prevent and combat harassment on the metro and buses–that campaign was the result of the advocacy of CASS!)
Although the organization is exclusively volunteer run, the @SafeSpacesDC twitter page actively retweets 140 character stories of harassment in DC to promote awareness. They have retweeted posts of mine, including the one about the Facebook friend in Paris. They are always posting great content about street harassment from all around the internet and the world and are definitely worth a follow. On their site, they encourage people who have experienced street harassment in DC to share their stories through a series of blogs called “My Streets, Too.” According to CASS volunteers, just sharing experiences in a supportive community can be extremely therapeutic for victims, and can be equally empowering for readers.
CASS has already accomplished a lot in the DC community. If they continue to utilize social media to their advantage, the impact of their message can be profound. Keep an eye out for the results of their current project, a program called “Safe Bars.”