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The First Step to Ending Street Harassment Once and For All

The First Step to Ending Street Harassment Once and For All

Last week I attended Holla:Revolution 2014 – International Conference on Street Harassment. Or, as I would refer to it, church.

Some had stronger beliefs than I have, others weren’t sure what to believe, but we all gathered under one guiding principle. There was a lot of nodding and, literally, hollering back when people from different cities around the world all testified to the same experiences.

Street harassment is something every woman experiences — as well as many men — yet almost no one talks about. It’s an ever-pervasive issue that seems amorphous and impossible to fight. Describing the conference to a friend, she asked me, “Who exactly do you ask to stop street harassment?”

Well, the answer is all of us. It’s a societal issue and to fight it we have to change the way all of us are thinking. Not so long ago, sexual harassment in the workplace was viewed through the same lens. It was a necessary evil, a reality of being a woman with a job that required interaction with men. The problem is by no means gone, but there are some laws in place to fight it and it’s no longer as openly accepted.

So how do we fight street harassment? At least sexual harassment in the workplace took place in a defined environment. Street harassment is everywhere. We can begin just by talking about it because that is still a revolutionary act.

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh described her street art as her “way of speaking back to [her] harassers.” Many women spoke about their experiences for the first time at the conference knowing that a supportive audience was listening. Lourdes Ashley Hunter, co-founder of Trans Women of Color Collective of Greater New York, spoke the truth that street harassment is not the same for all women. She told us the story of Islan Nettles, a young woman who was beaten to death across the street from a police station when a group of harassers learned she was trans.

The conference was affirming and comforting, but missing a key component. Comedian W. Kamau Bell started off the morning with the observation, “There should be more dudes here!” Women who are harassed don’t need a conference about harassment. Men who harass and the law enforcement officers who women try to turn to for help need this conference.

Hearing the stories of the brave and creative women fighting street harassment was healing after the UCSB shooting and the terror it ignited in all women. We’re not making it up. We’re not over-sensitive. Street harassment is a constant terror we live with every time we leave our homes. Ask a room full of women how they avoid being raped and they’ll give you a list: walk in pairs, hold your keys between your fingers like a weapon, etc. Ask a room of men how they avoid raping and they’ll look at you like you’re crazy.

Our first step towards changing minds and ending this socially pervasive disease is voicing it over and over until others can no longer deny it and everyone agrees to start fixing it.

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Photo Credit: Colleen H. Street art from her neighborhood, part of the Stop Telling Women to Smile project.

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91 comments

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4:20AM PDT on Jun 15, 2014

Thank you

5:02AM PDT on Jun 10, 2014

Claire, what you describe is sick. How can those women be so stupid?

1:11PM PDT on Jun 9, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

9:09PM PDT on Jun 7, 2014

Stop street harassment! End violence against women!

4:03PM PDT on Jun 6, 2014

ty

2:20AM PDT on Jun 6, 2014

Sounds like some good people doing good work to fight men who take advantage of male priviledge to bully

10:55AM PDT on Jun 5, 2014

BTW - I wanted to say also (after saying you should OWN the streets you walk in) that a number of years ago I was seriously sexually assaulted by a crazy guy, who very nearly killed me. I did fear for my life as he was obviously not right in the head. I can no longer walk by myself in that town late at night.

BUT - I haven't let it stop me going there. Although I now make sure to walk there with someone else at night I haven't stopped walking proud. Although he wasn't caught, if he sees me around he will see that I'm not intimidated. And maybe - just maybe - he'll be too afraid of ME to try it again.

The point of my saying this is - I know what it's like to be terrified. But I also know that if you confront your fears they WILL gradually fade. It was a breakthrough for me when last year I managed to walk home for three miles at 2.00am. If, at age 67, I can do it, so can YOU. :>))

9:35AM PDT on Jun 5, 2014

John C, I disagree and you said it as a man and that is exactly the problem. Men do not care enough to try in the least to put themselves in the place of women. Harassment is NO JOKE!! And not less so when on the street, but MORE so.
ConferenceS should be held all over the place where there are men... lol... that is all over the world. It is time that men be educated in this and well educated and made to understand and told to stop making light of the fears and humiliations women have to live through!!!!!!!!!!!!

10:21PM PDT on Jun 4, 2014

Just another sexist form of bullying.

10:13PM PDT on Jun 4, 2014

A pass, clumsy or not, is quite frightening if you are walking alone. It's different if you are at a dance or other social setting.

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