Tag Archives: harassment

Ignoring the reality of street harassment

USA: Male Privilege of Not Knowing, via The Good Men Project:

During a sexual violence prevention training with 40 enlisted air force men (‘airmen’), one young white man stood up and said that he had never thought about this issue before, until early one morning during a deployment overseas a few years ago. As he awoke and poked his head out of his tent he happened to see a friend, a female airman (females are ‘airmen’ too), walking by at a fast clip, her head down. He wished her good morning, but she ignored him. He called out louder, and a third time, with no response. He then ran out of his tent and caught up to her, asking why she hadn’t responded.

She seemed startled and he asked her if everything was ok. She told him that she was on her way to the chow hall for breakfast, and she hated the walk. It was a long one from her tent, and she got through it by keeping her head down and muscling through as best she could. He was 110% stumped about what she meant. Rather than explain, she told him to walk with her, and he agreed.

As he described that walk to the chow hall you could see he was viscerally reliving the experience. He said he didn’t know what to expect, what the issue was. And yet as they walked, he became aware of a strange sensation. At first he couldn’t put his finger on it but it grew, and eventually he knew exactly what it was. It was the feeling of being watched. As they walked, every single tent they passed opened. Men’s eyes were on them. Throughout the entire walk.

“Well, not on us,” he explained to us. “On her”.

Although the men were not looking at him, he said he physically felt their gaze and it was overwhelming. The men didn’t say anything during the walk. Didn’t catcall, didn’t threaten. But he said they didn’t need to. By the time they got to the chow hall he was physically shaken. He had never known that this was her experience every single day going to breakfast.

It was that walk to breakfast that led him to eventually become an Air Force Victim Advocate for survivors of sexual assault on his base.


To this day the memory that airman shared remains one of the most powerful examples of a man coming to the realization of how we as men are expected, trained, taught, raised, socialized, bullied, threatened and beaten into notseeing the epidemic levels of violence against women and girls all around us, let alone doing anything about it. It illustrated how powerful a look can be, how the public harassment of girls and women does not even have to be verbal to cause harm. How blind we as men allow ourselves and each other to get away with being.

And yet even though we are socialized and taught as such, it is still our choice as men to engage in the harassment of women and girls. Or to not. It is our choice and our privilege as men to ignore that street harassment exists, and its effect on the women and girls in our lives and countless others we will never meet (and who deserve every bit of respect and safety as do our mothers, partners, daughters, and sisters.)

In March 2012, right before International Anti-Street Harassment Week, I was working with a friend, my partner Bix, and others on a video modeling how men can challenge street harassment. As we filmed “Shit Men Say To Men Who Say Shit To Women On The Street” I had my own moment of truth. My partner was harassed during the shooting of the video – and none of the men involved, myself included, even noticed. This is the inherent injustice: my male privilege allows me to choose to ignore the reality of street harassment and other forms of gender-based violence, simply because I can.

Helping men reach their own moment of recognition of the true scope, scale, and impact of street harassment is one of the most important first steps to engaging men to challenge it when they see it and to change the culture that allows it.

Street harassment

“I will never stop fighting” via Stop Street Harassment:

On September 20, 2013, I went outside to enjoy the weather and have lunch. I was having a stressful day and thought that being outside in the warm weather would give me a chance to clear my head. As I walked to Freedom Plaza, I passed by a man who appeared to be in his 50s who was with a group of people. As I walked past him, he said, “Hey, beautiful” at me. Whenever a man who is a stranger to me makes a comment like that, it doesn’t make me feel beautiful. It makes me feel tense, guarded, and uncomfortable that I’m being appraised by my appearance. He sat there looking at me as if he demanded a response.

“The only person I want to hear ‘hey, beautiful’ from is my man,” I said. “Not some random man on the street.” I’m not in a relationship, but if I were, that hypothetical boyfriend would be the only man I’d want to hear something like that from. And I made that comment because while I don’t like being seen as someone else’s property, oftentimes men who think like this only back off if they think that the woman is with someone else.

With this guy, it didn’t work. He went from calling me “beautiful” to calling me “ugly,” calling me a “bitch,” saying that I was “white” (because in his twisted mind, a black woman who wants nothing to do with a stranger who happens to be the same race is a “race traitor”), saying I was on Ritalin, and the ultimate insult, telling me that I “suck white man’s dick.” All this is the reason why I don’t accept compliments from men I don’t know – it’s never a compliment, it’s all about power and control.

When this happened, I lost my appetite and it was suddenly too hot to be outside. I managed to record as much as the incident as possible on a new phone that I was still learning how to use. I stood my ground, telling him that he should’ve risen up above being a black male stereotype, that he was a stranger to me and I don’t accept compliments from strangers, and that as many vulgar names as he used against me, I never did the same in return. Upset as I was, I did not stoop to his level. Another man who was with the harasser apologized on his behalf, though the harasser should’ve apologized. He even tried to get the harasser to stop it. The harasser told me that I should’ve said, “Thank you, brother” to him for a compliment that I never asked for. When the harasser looked like he was going to follow me, I called the police, though his friend begged me not to.

As I spoke with the dispatcher, I felt that nothing would come from the call. I wanted to move away from where the harasser was, but the 911 dispatcher gave me the impression that I should’ve stayed close by. I said that I needed to get back to the office, but there was no estimated time as to when the police would arrive. Knowing that I could risk being late to return to work and that the harasser would’ve been long gone by that point, I apologized for “wasting DC government resources” and told them to cancel the call.

I decided to head back to the office, the harassment adding to the stress that I was feeling prior to the incident. On the way back a man on the street tried to give me a rose (I noticed that he does not offer his roses to men who pass him by) and I said “no” a few times until he got the hint. Another man referred to me as “Boo-Boo,” a term that I find dumb and childish. I said that my name was not “Boo-Boo” and that he was to refer to me as “Miss or Ma’am.” He did not get the hint.

When I returned to the office, I was worn out. My body felt tense, my teeth were clenched, and I had to  internalize that for the remainder of the day. I used the little power left in my phone to update my Facebook status about the lunchtime harassment, but didn’t get to see the responses until after work since my phone died and I don’t log onto Facebook with my work computer. I kept my office door (in my case, a curtain) closed as much as possible, feeling the hurt and pain of this virulent and violent form of verbal harassment, and needing to be alone as much as possible to work through it.

This incident was not the first time I was harassed, nor will it be the last. I have been harassed since I was 16 years old, before I knew that there was a word for it. When I was younger I did not have the strength or the tools to stand up against it. I remember being in my late teens or early 20s and riding the bus, and a man old enough to be my grandfather sat next to me. He started talking to me, talking about how attractive I was, and I chose to ignore it. He assumed that I was deaf, so he started speaking in a more lewd manner and speaking about me in sexual terms. Since I was “deaf” I couldn’t break my facade and had to sit there and listen to his sexual commentary, yet even if I chose to break my facade, I was too fearful to.

I have been followed by men in their cars, physically threatened (one man threw punches close to my face because I dared to ignore him and tell him why), chased, and called every sexist and racist name in the book. The older I got and the more harassment that I experienced, I became more angry and started fighting back. Sometimes I’d yell back. Sometimes I’d curse. Sometimes I’d take photos and videos of the harassers. I’d even take more benign approaches, like ignoring them, or calmly explaining why I don’t like their behavior, or just giving a simple “no.” Sometimes these methods worked, sometimes they didn’t. My reactions depended on my mood, the time of day, and my safety level. Even with the number of anti-harassment trainings out there giving the tools on what to do and say when encountering a harasser, there’s no one correct way to handle street harassment – it’s about what works best for a person at that moment. That’s why I have no regrets on how I handled the recent harassment – I don’t take back anything I said, I don’t regret calling the police, nor do I regret canceling the call. Other people will nitpick my actions, but the only person’s opinion that’s important on the matter is my own.

People tend to blame the recipient of harassment. When sharing my stories, I get lots of feedback from people who support me and who get it. But the voices of those who don’t support me and who don’t get it are louder. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been told that I bring upon my own harassment. It’s because I’m beautiful. Because I should’ve accepted his compliment. Because I’m petite and look like an easy victim. Because I’m too hard on men. It’s because of how I was dressed. It’s because I’m a woman. Or I get told what I should’ve done. If I ignore it, I get told that I should’ve said something, but if I say something, I get told that I should’ve ignored it.

I also deal with the erasure of my stories. When I talk about dealing with intraracial harassment as a black woman, white women will dismiss my stories with, “It doesn’t only happen to black women.” That’s obvious. But instead of just listening, they interject into black women’s stories and try to make it about them. I can only speak from my experience as a black woman facing harassment, and these women should let me have the podium. White women’s stories are not universal, and everyone should have the freedom to talk about being harassed without being dismissed. Being harassed is hard enough in itself, and they don’t need to add to that feeling.

I have no idea why I get harassed so frequently, and trying to figure it out would be like blaming the victim. What I do know is that it’s taking its toll on me – I can only take unwanted attention turned insults from random men for so long before it wears on my psyche. I’ve been called “bitch” so many times that people would think it was my given name. I try to act tough but it gets to me. I’m always guarded, wearing my shades even when the sun’s not out, listening to an MP3 player to tune harassers out, and have my harassment radar set on high. Harassment makes me feel anxious and uncomfortable.

I live in a world where people aren’t comfortable with letting me be because I don’t conform to a group mentality. My identity and opinions are erased and people try to put their own labels on me. It’s this same mentality that gets me labeled “cold” because I’m not big on small talk and happy hours. One where racist people write me off as being “stupid” because of the color of my skin. Or one where others call me “mean” because I’m not a delicate woman who grins like an idiot. It’s the same mentality that has a harasser calling me a “bitch,” because when I defend my right to walk freely in a public space, I’m no longer an object to him, but an individual with thoughts and ideas, and he finds that threatening.

I became a member of Arlington Independent Media late last year. AIM is a nonprofit organization that provides its members with the tools to create their own public access programming. Since taking many classes at AIM, I’ve become active in volunteering on different productions while getting the feel for their camera equipment. When I passed a certification test to use the organization’s field equipment I was ready to produce my own content. I thought that my first production would be short and lighthearted (I’ve always wanted to do sitcoms), but summer was starting up and I felt that that would be the best time to do a documentary on street harassment. I spent hours interviewing different people and organizations active in the fight against street harassment, had volunteer crews come out with me to tape different anti-harassment events, and inadvertently got video footage of my harassers in action (such as the above-mentioned harassment incident).

The documentary will be edited soon and won’t be out until the end of the year. While dealing with harassment is beyond tiresome, getting together to talk about it will never become old. We need to keep telling these stories and keep sharing these stories. And as worn out and mentally beaten as I am from being harassed so frequently, I will never stop fighting in the battle against it.

Dienna Howard is an artist who recently had work featured at the Target Gallery and Convergence, both in Alexandria, VA. Dienna is a volunteer/producer for Arlington Independent Media, and through that organization is currently producing her first documentary, one on the issue of street harassment.

Handling cyber harassment

Cyber Harassment: What the Online Community Can Do to Stop the Trolls, via The Huffington Post

The Internet is a bountiful source of information, commerce, entertainment and enlightenment. We share stories and pictures online. We cheer up our friends with encouraging messages. We read the news and share our opinions about the issues of the day. We watch funny videos and search for jobs, mates and rare copies of Ramones albums. Cyberspace is no longer a science fiction concept, but an alternate universe that exists in our reality, one that we can tap into at any time, from anywhere.

It is a wondrous place.

However, as in the real world, you’ll also find the corrupt and depraved. Thieves will try to steal your identity. Con artists will attempt to rob you of your affection and cash. And trolls will ambush you, intent on harming your sanity, your self-worth and your reputation.

Over the course of my 22 years in journalism, I have been threatened numerous times. Sometimes the subjects of my stories didn’t like having their misdeeds aired to the public, and so they lashed out. Sometimes, the people involved were just nuts.

I once wrote a story about an assistant fire chief who got caught driving drunk. A day later, an unidentified man left a message on my answering machine saying that if I ever have a fire at my house, don’t bother calling the fire department because they wouldn’t come.

A man who was charged with sexually assaulting a woman in her dorm room once vowed to hunt me down and rape me “til I bled to death” because I had the temerity to write about the case. If only these comments could have been used at trial; it might have changed the outcome. Unfortunately, he was later acquitted because the judge said sex without a woman’s consent was not rape unless the attacker used force or the threat of force. Apparently, begging him to stop the assault was not enough.

One man was so incensed about the fact that a story on Lady Gaga had appeared on the front page of a website where I worked that he emailed and said he wanted the U.S. government to kidnap me, throw me in Guantanamo, torture me for 10 years and then dump my body on my parents’ lawn. I wasn’t even the person who published the innocuous profile.

More recently, I have been cyber-harassed, and it wasn’t in response to anything I had actually written or said. Instead, someone created a fake profile bearing a stranger’s name and used that account to post horrible anti-Semitic comments online. Then someone apparently stole a picture from my Website and digitally added it to displays of those comments, implying that the comments came from me. Some trolls then took to their blog and to Twitter to write about it. The sum effect of all of this slandered my reputation as a journalist by alleging that I was a bigot and a coward. Such lies not only defame my character, but my employers’ as well.

People of all ages, races, religions and nationalities are considered possible marks for trolls, but female journalists are a popular target. Why just in the past month, several female journalists have been threatened with bomb attacks online. Imagine logging onto one of your favorite micro blogging sites and seeing this:


So how are we, the innocent parties, supposed to respond to these despicable actions? Here is some of the advice I’ve received:

“Don’t feed the trolls. Just ignore them. They’ll go away.”

“You need to develop a tougher skin. It’s the Internet after all.”

And my personal favorite, “Well, that’s the price of fame.”

Basically, don’t feed the egos of the attention-starved people who use the Internet to (often anonymously) defame, harass and frighten. Or worse, accept that this is how the world should work instead of trying to change it.

To which, I call bullshit.

I would not tolerate such behavior in person, and I am certainly not about to do so online. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Others have also decided to fight back.

Emma Barnett, women’s editor for the Telegraph in London, tried to ignore the bomb threat she received by meeting with friends at a local pub. It was, after all, just one of many online attacks she has experienced on Twitter and on her articles for years. Barnett was also reticent to contact the police because she didn’t have much faith in their understanding of the problem. Barnett eventually decided to share her story online in order to launch a conversation about the best ways to deal with such abuse.

Caroline Criado-Perez is a freelance writer and feminist campaigner who successfully lobbied the Bank of England to feature a female face (other than the Queen’s) on British bank notes. For this, she received numerous online threats of rape and murder. Examples include: “Wouldn’t mind tying this bitch to my stove. Hey sweetheart — give me a shout when you’re ready to be put in your place” and “Everyone report @CriadoPerez for rape and murder threats and also being a cunt #malemasterrace.”

Criado-Perez could have ignored these comments and hoped that none of the threats were serious. Instead she and other Twitter users began adding the hashtag #SHOUTINGBACKto their tweets. She also wrote a brilliant essay on the topic in which she talks about how difficult it is for people to openly discuss the issue of cyber-harassment.

“I am making people uncomfortable. If I continue to ‘feed the trolls,’ I deserve all I get. Never mind that ignoring or blocking only results in new accounts being set up — or the trolls simply finding a new victim. Never mind that my ‘trolls’ are trying to shut me up. Never mind: take this awkward truth away,” Criado-Perez wrote.

After learning about Criado-Perez’s story, Kim Graham took to Change.org to lobby Twitter into installing a “report abuse” button on all tweets.

“Abuse on Twitter is common; sadly too common. And it frequently goes ignored. We need Twitter to recognise that it’s current reporting system is below required standards,” she wrote. To date, more than 135,000 people have signed the petition.

Catherine Mayer, TIME’s Europe editor, has often been on the receiving end of sexist comments and cyber-bullying. But when she became the target of a bomb threat on Twitter and found out other female journalists had been victimized, she contacted police.

“I think this is something that is never properly taken into account. People always say of individual incidents, ‘that’s not very serious is it? Don’t let it bother you,'” Mayer said. “But it’s the accretion of all of these incidents of low level abuse that matter, and that’s very true of female journalists. Both in the virtual world, and the real world, we encounter throughout our working lives low level abuse and low level harassment all the time.”

Hadley Freeman, a columnist for the Guardian who recently received a bomb threat online, reported it to the police and then took to her column to discuss the problem of trolls.

“It doesn’t matter if you think you are fighting the feminist cause by railing at newspaper columnists who you believe are insufficiently feminist, covertly racist, blatantly transphobic or anything else. Abusing people is not a good way to get anyone to consider your complaints seriously. As Helen Lewis wrote in the New Statesman last week, ‘Being a dick to people on Twitter is not activism. Hashtag truesay,'” Freeman wrote.

Think Progress reporter Alyssa Rosenberg has tweeted the full names and institutional affiliations of trolls under the #ThreatoftheDay hashtag. “Threaten me,” Rosenberg wrote, “and I will cheerfully do my part to make sure that when employers, potential dates, and your family Google you, they will find you expressing your desire to see a celebrity assault a blogger.”

The Everyday Sexism Project seeks to expose the breadth of the problem by cataloguing the abuse women experience on a daily basis. Since British writer Laura Bates launched the site in 2012, it has received more than 25,000 stories about women being followed, humiliated and attacked (online and off).

The International News Safety Institute plans to study the issue as well, and will launch a global survey into violence against women journalists and the nature of the dangers they face in relation to their work, from physical threats to cyber-bulling. All women working in the news media are invited to participate.

And then there’s the unmasking option, which Gawker did in 2012 when it revealed that Michael Brutsch was actually the troll known as Violentacrez on Reddit. As writer Adrian Chen noted, “If you are capable of being offended, Brutsch has almost certainly done something that would offend you, then did his best to rub your face in it. His speciality is distributing images of scantily-clad underage girls, but as Violentacrez he also issued an unending fountain of racism, porn, gore, misogyny, incest, and exotic abominations yet unnamed, all on the sprawling online community Reddit. At the time I called Brutsch, his latest project was moderating a new section of Reddit where users posted covert photos they had taken of women in public, usually close-ups of their asses or breasts, for a voyeuristic sexual thrill.”

Brutsch was eventually fired from his real-world job after being outed.

Now as we all know female journalists aren’t the only ones being targeted by trolls. There have been way too many stories in the news about men using Craigslist to send strangers to rape ex-girlfriends, ex-employees trying get back at their former bosses by publishing defamatory comments and subscribing them to porn sites/magazines, and teens posting vicious rumors and lies about fellow students. The devastation felt by these victims is incalculable, and in some cases even led to suicide.

This type of behavior has to stop.

In recent years, politicians and law enforcement have stepped up efforts to combat the thieves and con artists. They’ve passed safety measures to battle against fraud, and created avenues for cybercrime victims to file complaints. Yet when it comes to trolls, there is generally little legal recourse. Victims can document the threats and defamatory comments, but that does not stop the abusers nor does it keep them from attacking others. So what else can we, as citizens of the Internet, do to end such atrocious behavior?

* Education is key to changing attitudes and making clear that the denigration of women and violence against them are unacceptable, Vivienne Hayes, chief executive of the Women’s Resource Centre, told CNN. “I hope the horrendous level of this kind of trolling is going to push this issue into the forefront” and prompt government action.

* Freedom of speech has its limits, and people need to learn what they are. You can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theatre. You can’t threaten violence with the intent of putting someone at risk for bodily harm or death. You do not have a constitutional right to tell lies that damage or defame the reputation of a person or organization.

* If you see something, say something. Don’t allow trolls to take over your blogs or social media feeds. If you spy terrible comments, delete them. If the abusers continue to spew their hatred at you, ban their IP address. And if you notice that trolls are attacking someone else, don’t ignore the problem. Stand up for the victim and make it clear that such cruelty is not acceptable under any circumstances.

* Internet providers and Website administrators must be more proactive against threatening and defamatory speech. Earlier this month, Twitter announced that it would create an “in-tweet” report button and roll it out to all platforms. This is an excellent start. Hiring moderators, banning users who abuse others, blocking anonymous users and sharing threats with authorities would be a great second step.

Train the police. Many departments are becoming savvy social media users, as evidenced by the official usage of Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Google+ to share Amber Alerts and BOLOs. But officers also need to learn how to deal with cases of cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking and cyber-scams.

* Arrest the perpetrators. Police in England did just that last month, in response to online threats made against Criado-Perez and politician Stella Creasy. Perhaps a bit of jail time will make trolls think twice before typing out another online threat.

* Lastly, the Internet community must discuss this issue, and create clear and helpful guidelines for victims of online abuse.

No one should have to suffer in silence.