This was the first incident of street harassment I experienced as a Penn State student living in State College, PA. I was walking toward a bus stop to meet a friend on a Friday night. It was the weekend of a football game in fall 2011, so the sidewalk was full of partially intoxicated patrons. A man in a striped button-down spat this lewd comment in my face as he approached me. When he passed, I felt shocked, violated, and insulted.
Don’t be mistaken: these types of incidents aren’t rare in this town. Street harassment is a widespread problem in State College, where nearly every woman I know has experienced some form of it: catcalls, taunting, lewd remarks, leering, sexually objectifying remarks, you name it. And this type of harassment functions as part of a larger issue in this town: rape culture.
It’s apparent that harmful attitudes toward women exist in State College when we consider other aspects of this town’s culture. Since the beginning of the fall semester on Aug. 27, State College police have received nine sexual assault reports on campus or in State College. That means PSU has been seeing an average of more than one sexual assault per week. In a world where the majority of rapes go unreported, these numbers should implore you to ask: how many sexual assaults aren’t being reported on this campus?
That’s why members of Penn State’s TRIOTA, the Women’s Studies Honor’s Society, decided to conduct an anti-street harassment demonstration on a busy Friday afternoon in downtown State College. On Oct. 12, we held signs proclaiming our anti-harassment message, and even included specific remarks that had been yelled at us during our time at PSU.
We saw a lot of stares and furrowed brows from passerby. Only a few people approached us to express their support, but it doesn’t matter—getting this issue in the eyes and ears of the State College community is important if we want to combat harmful behavior and attitudes toward women.
Are you listening, PSU?
Julie Mastrine will graduate from Penn State University in December 2012. She’s an activist, feminist, and writer in the PR industry. You can reach out to Julie on Twitter.Share on Facebook