It started when I was eight years old. I was across from my elementary school waiting to cross the street. When everything was clear, I started to cross, when a middle-aged man pulled up in the crosswalk in front of me, cutting me off. From what I remember, he asked me some sort of question, but as I looked, I realized that not only was he masturbating, he was ejaculating right on the seat. I was horrified, and ran away. I am now 45 years old (Black Female), and that’s my earliest recollection of when it all started.
When I was about 15, I was walking to school in Springfield Gardens, Queens, when a man in his thirties, saw me walking by his house. He got in his car and followed me, while he kept telling me how attractive he thought I was. I just kept walking, terrified. He followed me in his car all the way to school, but he never got out. After school, I told my parents what happened, and the next day, my father made me show him where his house was, but I never saw him again. He probably saw him through the window. From then on, I took the school bus.
I remember it being at it’s worst when I was in my 20s. First the catcalling, then the insults when I didn’t respond, and then the threats. When I went to night clubs, I was followed around, even when I went to the ladies room. Men would wait for me, and when I came out, they would grab my arm trying to talk to me again. I remember leaving a club one evening with my date, heading for the subway in Midtown Manhattan, when a man approached us and asked how much I charged for a blow job. I’ve had my car vandalized right across the street from my home (keyed my doors, side view mirrors, and broke my passenger side window) when I wouldn’t speak to a group of thugs hanging out of the street corner.
Men have followed me home when I gone to the supermarket. I’ve been spit on for not giving a man my phone number in a clothing store; had my hair pulled because I wouldn’t talk to another. I was knocked to the ground in the middle of a crosswalk near South Street Seaport on the 4th of July, because they were angry that I was walking with a white man. I went to the Yankees Parade in 1996, when someone grabbed my behind. They have dry humped me on the subway, and cornered me in train cars.
One of the most humiliating incidents occurred (as if the others weren’t bad enough) when I was waiting at the bus stop to go to a shopping area on Jamaica Avenue in Queens. A man pulled up in a car and started yelling sexual comments to me. Just when I started to cringe, my bus arrived, and I boarded. When I got off the bus, I thought I was fairly safe. I went into a shoe store. I was just getting to the aisle where my shoe size was, when suddenly, out of nowhere, the same man in the car appeared. Apparently, he followed my bus. He got in my face and yelled, “Bitch, if you didn’t want to be bothered, you shouldn’t wear those fucking tight-ass jeans, you fucking whore!” To top it off he spit on me, and left. Everyone in the store just froze, and it was dead silent.
When I subleased an apartment in the Bronx for a 1 1/2 years, the men in front of the building would harass me everyday, and I wouldn’t speak to them, and they didn’t take it well. They bribed the Security Guard to get my apartment number. They broke into my mailbox, found out where I worked, and stole my paycheck. They followed me up to my apartment, and tried to set fire to it by slipping a burning newspaper under my door. Fortunately, they only succeeded in melting my peephole. I worked at a clothing store part-time for extra money, and when they found out, they stole a mannequin from the store, poured blood on it, and hung it in front of my door; so I would run right into it when I left for work in the morning. Needless to say, I moved out before the lease was up. Absolutely horrifying.
For several years as a young adult in New York City, I felt constantly under siege by men and spent most of my young adult life experiencing mostly sexual terrorism on the street. Even with all of the horrible things I experienced, I thought it was just a part of being an attractive woman, and that I just wasn’t handling it well. I suffered, and continue to suffer from severe anxiety and depression, and started going to support groups about, but it didn’t really help, because there was no name for what I was experiencing, and no laws to stop it at the time. To top it off, the harassment wouldn’t stop. I remember arriving at work a few times, and went to the ladies room with my hands trembling, and tears because I experienced more harassment. I went through life feeling terrified, paranoid, and ashamed of my body.
When I turned 36, I couldn’t take anymore, and left New York City for good in 2004. I think what is really sad is that the only time in my life I recall walking on the street without being harassed is when I was coming home from work during 9/11, and that’s because the streets in Manhattan were deserted. It’s probably the only time that the harassers were afraid for their lives. They have no idea that most women experience terrorism almost every time they walk out the door.
I was so happy to discover that Hollaback! and other similar organizations started, and is spreading all over the world, because it is a major problem for women. As much as I wish I could come back to New York and be a part of it, I’m still afraid. I will continue to follow Hollaback!’s progress, and be a stern supporter.
God Bless you all.