We’ve all faced it to some degree — one of those burdens of being a woman — sexual harassment. What happens when harassment becomes abuse? Where do we even draw the line between the two — isn’t verbal harassment still a form of assault?
Countless times I’ve been verbally attacked in public. And, I say attacked because that’s exactly how it feels. Someone is aggressively hurling words my way with the intent to make an impact. I’ve agonized over questions like, “Do men think this is acceptable?” “What do they expect me to say back?” Are they trying to make me angry, scared, sad, or — worse yet — turned on? PLEASE. What the hell do they think they are doing and why does it happen so frequently?
I’d like to think since 1972 when Title IX was enacted, a law that prohibits sexual discrimination in the workplace and in education, we’d come a long way. Yet, harassment at work, school, in public — anywhere — is a form of discrimination. When men say perverted things to women on the street they are saying it because they are women, not because they are a person. How is it any different from shouting a racial slur at someone? In my opinion, someone saying a sexual remark to me is the same as calling a black person the N-word. These forms of language are hurtful and discriminatory toward particular groups. There’s no difference and no way to stop either occurrence.
Why is there nothing you can do about harassment on the street? Even on sexual harassment support sites it defines the problem as: “unwanted and unwelcome behavior, or attention, of a sexual nature that interferes with your life and your ability to function at work, home, or school. ” What about a woman’s right to walk on the street?
I asked a friend who works as a police officer for the NYPD about the safety of carrying pepper spray in my purse, in case harassment ever became a physical danger while walking a sketchy stretch of sidewalk on my way home. He said I could carry pepper spray, but it’s tricky because unless the harasser or attacker actually hurts me, he could accuse me of assault with a weapon if he doesn’t touch me. So basically, he could chase me, with an attempt to cause injury, but if I act first, I could be charged with assault.
As I said before, where do we draw the line? Is sexual harassment protected by the First Amendment out in public? Can women really be convicted of assault if they are attempting to protect themselves? The biggest danger of these verbal attacks is the potential for them to become actions — rape, molestation, assault, and kidnapping. And the risk is high when the threats are made.
However, if our own government cannot even protect their female soldiers from sexual abuse from their comrades, how can we expect them to protect civilians like us too? When do we stop being silent and take action to make the harassers shut up?
To report incidents and find support in New York City, check out Holla Back NYC, a group dedicated to supporting those who have been harassed on the street. And, to increase awareness about this problem, don’t forget to share your story below.
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