It was the first night my boss took me to an event. This was my first job ever, working under a fashion brand as an intern. I made sure I looked perfect; I spent fifteen minutes making sure the arches of my eyebrows matched each other in a soft angle. I’d finally proven myself and my work over all the other interns; my boss trusted me enough to take me to an important event. I’d made sure to dress extra smart and professional in black suit pants and black loafers. I had high heels in my hand, but I knew I’d be taken seriously in loafers.
It was about 9pm, and I headed towards East 3rd street to meet my boss so we could Uber uptown together. I had my headphones in my ears, and I was walking to the heavy beat of “Ricc Flair Drip” by Offset. It felt amazing, like I was on top of the world. I couldn’t believe it; I’d proven myself; I couldn’t stop smiling. Suddenly I felt the brush of a face next to mine. Too close to mine. So close I jumped away. A biker was turning his bike around and it was him. It was his face that brushed against mine. But surely this was an accident. I mean, he didn’t mean to get that close. “It was me,” I thought. “I’m being silly, he didn’t mean it.” I had my headphones in and I got scared. It’s my fault.
As I walked further down the street, the biker took off ahead of me and turned around to blow me a kiss and whistle at me. I felt the prickling chill I get when I’m nervous. It starts from my neck and rises to the top of my head. He’d violated me. What was he doing? Was he trying to kiss me, to smell me? I felt disgusting. My hands were shaking I was so upset. I screamed at him, “That’s sexual harassment;” people around me applauded like I was a hero. Though it felt like it didn’t even matter at that point.
Fulton Street Station in the heat of July: I was refilling my train card to go into Brooklyn to have sex with a guy I’d been seeing. He’s my best friend’s ex-boyfriend from high school. She says “It’s chill,” but I knew it wasn’t.
I placed my credit card in the MetroCard machine and began tapping across the small screen. A young woman was using the machine to the right of me. She was maybe a few years older than me and had milky skin that effortlessly blended with the soft peach tone of her blouse. A man began using the machine to the left of me. He was older, maybe 40s or 50s. He was white, with dark hair, and his keys were attached onto the loop of his jeans. His accent was a strong Brooklyn accent that radiated over the music playing from my headphones. I turned my volume up. He began to speak louder. I paused my music.
He was having a difficult time using the card refilling machine.
“What the fuck? Are you kidding me?” he said. He was grumbling and he was angry. After a few more grunts, I heard the unmistakable. “I almost hate these machines as much as I hate women who don’t keep their legs closed.” I removed a headphone from my ear. “Ain’t that right bitch?” he said. Is he talking to me? I thought to myself, panicking because my credit card was being held in the reader. “Ain’t that right BITCH?” he said louder.
I turned my head and said, “Excuse me?” He didn’t even look at me.
“I’m just saying, you should respect your elders when they’re speaking to you,” he said. A moment of heavy silence. “You’re a slut and a bitch, right?” he said angrily to the machine, but I knew he was speaking to me.
“Go fuck yourself,” I said, firmly. I can hear the machine whirring to dispense my loaded card. Normally it takes a few seconds, it felt like it took forever. I was ready to run for it. “You’re fucking crazy,” I said to him while trying to make a quick getaway.
“What did you say bitch?” he said, turning to run after me. He chased me down the steps to the platform of the 4 train. I felt the kind of tightness that brings hysterics in my chest, as if someone was repeatedly squeezing my heart with their bare hands. I looked behind me to see if he was close to find him turning away and running the opposite direction. When I went to find MTA security, the milky-skinned woman was waiting at the top of the steps.
“Are you ok?” she said with her mouth dropped open standing near the card refill machines. I can’t speak, so I just hug her and cry. I don’t even know her, but she held my head and let me cry. An MTA security member told me the man was gone and they couldn’t do anything. A week later, my Dad bought me a small red pepper spray gun off of Amazon. As if a small red pepper spray gun was going help me.
For me, my experiences of living alone in a city went beyond what I had anticipated or even knew how to cope with. My small room in the shape of a box was always eerily quiet, but outside my front door was a completely different experience. I began experiencing walking alone at night and punching in my door code in record speed in case someone was watching behind me. I had never experienced someone trying to kiss my face off the street, I had never experienced someone yelling at me to comment on how my skirt looked against my legs and crying afterwards, I had never experienced my best friend being raped by another friend one night after he gave her something she wasn’t supposed to take.
I had never experienced fear of the world and people around me before. The problem I had was I knew what sexual harassment was, but I never realized the magnitude of the issue and how directly it could affect me as well as others around me.
#MeToo has become a social movement that has created awareness through social media activism to break a pattern of silence within a vast community of people who have experienced sexual violence.
Without the global news coverage that the #MeToo movement drew, it hasn’t always been evident that sexual harassment and abuse is something that happens on an everyday scale. Sexual harassment and abuse is something I (as well as many others) deal with simply walking to school at 8am on a Monday morning.
Sexual harassment and abuse happens with your friends, coworkers, and teachers. Sexual harassment and abuse happens everywhere, at all times, with people of different backgrounds, genders, and sexual orientations. Sexual harassment and abuse is everywhere. So if it’s everywhere, what can we do about it?
Based out of Brooklyn, the organization Hollaback! is a “people-powered” movement that is directed at putting an end to harassment. Research from Hollaback! has helped me find the best way to respond to harassment in a way that can reduce some of the emotional impact. These are some of my own tips that have helped me in situations of sexual harassment. Of course, many of these things that have helped me can translate differently to different people. How you respond to harassment is your choice.
Here are tips that have helped me in a situation of harassment:
- It’s important to be clear and firm, if you choose to respond. Let them know what they have done to you. “What you’re doing is sexual harassment, get away”.
- Remember you have more to lose than the harasser, so do not physically engage or persist. Walk away and/or call the police, if you can identify the person.
- If you are capable of documenting something, do it. A video is evidence that will support your claim of assault and make it harder for someone to deny the charges
- Remember that you are not alone. It’s so easy to fall victim to the emotional distress of being harassed. Unfortunately, there are many victims of sexual harassment, and it has really helped me to be vocal about my experiences to help and inform other women.
It’s important to remember that being a victim of sexual harassment of any kind does not make you powerless; you are not alone. Harassment can be incredibly invasive and, according to Hollaback, has been shown result in a variety of physical and emotional effects such as anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, PTSD and more. With #MeToo representing a large unacknowledged demographic of harassment victims, one can hope that the impact from movements like these make people more aware, careful and helpful in instances of harassment.
Gif by Ashlie Juarbe