I have been harassed all my life. I try not to let it dictate how I dress, but I am always grateful when it gets cold outside because then I have the added protection of a coat and maybe even a hat and scarf. Even then, I am harassed, when men cannot even see what I look like. It’s simply because I am young, and a woman, and, to them, an object.
It started when I was young, maybe ten or eleven. I was visiting my uncle’s house with my family. He lived near my grandparents in a very poor part of the region. His next-door neighbors’ son still lived at home, even though he was in his 30s. I had never spoken with him or interacted with him, yet as I got in the car to leave my uncle’s house, he looked at me and deliberately made oral sex motions with his hands, gesturing toward his penis. My parents were turned the other way, talking to my uncle, so they did not see this. I was young enough to not understand what he was doing right away, but I knew it was something bad. I never told my parents, maybe because I was unsure of what I really saw or maybe because I was afraid of “causing trouble”.
Later, in college, I got hit on by boys all the time, driving in their cars shouting, “Hey sexy!” or “Wanna get in my car?” I dismissed it as drunkenness or the “frat” culture.
My worst experience, though, was when I was studying abroad. I took the same route to school every day, walking, although I should have taken a taxi. I never felt particularly unsafe in spite of the high level of comments and innuendos by men. One day, I crossed a walking bridge. I saw a young man, maybe in his 20s, approaching from the other side, and I made sure I was far to the right so he could pass. My eyes were lowered. Suddenly, I was pressed against him, my schoolbag smashed between us. His face was near my neck, and I felt his hands squeezing my ass. It felt like forever, but I was in shock. I had never had someone touch me in public, and somehow I thought that being in public in daylight made me “safe.” Finally, I started screaming, and the man ran away. I stood, shaking, on the bridge, as two businessmen walked up the stairs. They had to have heard my scream, but they did nothing. They didn’t look at me or even acknowledge my presence. I cried all the way to school and never walked alone again. I only told a couple people about it.
Months later, I was at a bar and going to retrieve my coat with my friend from the coat check. We passed two young men as he walked, and one reached around and pinched my ass. I turned around, in shock, and he gave me this slow smile, like he knew I really liked it. I wish I had run after him; I had friends that were standing near the exit waiting to leave. I didn’t though, and when I expressed my extreme anger and frustration over the incident, my friends seemed nonchalant, as if I should expect to be groped a little because I dared to go to a bar. They did not know my previous encounter, so maybe they did not understand how violated I felt.
Whenever I walk somewhere or take public transportation (which is often now that I live in NYC), I am on my guard. I can spot a creeper a mile away, and I will do anything to get my distance from them. I zigzag away from men on the street, no matter what they look like, because you never know when one will get a little too close so they can making a kissing sound near your ear or make a lewd comment. I have actually had men look at me in confusion when they go about their day but happen to get too close and I leap out of the way in fear. I can’t help it – I’ve learned to consider any man on the street a potential predator.
Location: Unnamed places and NYC
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