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Native Americans Speak Out About Street Harassment

In street harassment | on 09.10.12 | by | Comments ( 0 )

Kristina and Sunny Clifford

““Hey baby girl,” a group of ten and twelve-year-old Native American boys yelled over and over as they jumped on a trampoline. Then they lifted up their shirts and said, “You want some of this?” as they pounded on their chests. Their targets: Sunny and Kristina Clifford, two Native American sisters in their 20s, sitting outside their mother’s home on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The boys wouldn’t stop and the young women felt so uncomfortable they went inside the house.

The Clifford sisters shared this story during a focus group I recently held at Oglala Lakota College on Pine Ridge Reservation about Native Americans’ experiences with street harassment. They said this incident had happened to them just the day before.

I quickly learned from the focus group participants that, like the rest of the country and the rest of the world, sexual harassment in public spaces is not unusual on the Pine Ridge Reservation, an area the size of the state of Connecticut with a population of 18,834 and an unemployment rate of 89 percent.

Most people on the reservation do not have regular access to a car, and the only public transportation available is a relatively new shuttle bus. As a result, walking is a primary way for people to travel from place to place. The women said that’s when they experience the most street harassment, at the hands of Native and non-Native men driving by in their cars. Kristina Clifford remarked, “There’s always somebody honking, or saying things, yelling, or whatever. It just makes me uncomfortable.”

Sometimes, another woman said, the men drive by once, turn around, and drive by again and again, just to harass them. Consequently, there are places the young women will not walk, and Sunny Clifford, a runner, said she won’t run along the roads anymore.” (Read More)

This is an excerpt from an article I wrote for the Women’s Media Center.

Five years after I turned in my master’s thesis on street harassment, I never thought I’d spend my weekends, most of my vacation days, and lunch hours researching, writing, and bringing attention to the issue. But street harassment has become so important to me that I do, and I feel lucky that I can. In particular, my passion is making sure as many stories and voices as possible are heard so that we can better understand the scope of the problem and its impact.

One population whose street harassment stories I had never seen shared anywhere before were Native Americans’ stories. Because they face higher rates of gender violence than any other racial group in the U.S., I felt it was especially important to learn about their experiences.

Two weeks ago today, I took four vacation days from my day job, caught a cheap flight to Denver and paid for a rental car to drive 6 hours to South Dakota. Through the help of Holly Sortland, the founder of an amazing initiative called ProjectRespect.org, I had the opportunity to hear from Native Americans living on Pine Ridge Reservation and in Rapid City. Their stories touched me, angered me, and made more determined than ever to do this work. I am grateful they were brave enough to share their deeply personal stories and I’m glad that the Associated Press and South Dakota PBS radio recognized the importance of their stories and shared some of them through their media channels.

The stories from these and other upcoming focus groups will supplement a first-of-its-kind national study of 2000 people I am trying to make happen. Please donate $10 (or more if you can) to ensure it happens; I have a great group of PhD-level experts ready to advise me on the surveying instrument and a very reputable survey firm ready to conduct it once we have enough funds.

Public policy and public attitudes about street harassment will change only once we have the right combination of stories and data. So many of you have shared your stories (thank you), now I need your help so we can have data. Thank you.

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