Public Harassment: I live in NYC, and experience street harassment…

I live in NYC, and experience street harassment on a pretty regular basis – it’s happened four times in the last four days alone. I had a man blowing kisses at me as he drove past in his van, someone reaching out and pretending to grab my breasts as he walked past, a guy following me and calling out “BITCH!” for a good couple of blocks, and a group of men yelling and wolf-whistling at me as I walked to football training. I tried talking to a female teammate about what happened, but she just said “I mean, it’s New York”. I know it’s a very complex and difficult problem to solve, but for me it was very disheartening and hurtful to have another woman normalising the issue and invalidating my distress.

It makes me feel so scared, dirty, and just plain fed up. I feel like these men use the power of surprise, and know that you’ll be too shocked and scared to respond to them in time, particularly if you’re alone or they can drive away quickly. It’s hard to know what to do – mostly I just ignore them, apart from rolling my eyes very theatrically, because I’m worried they’ll get aggressive if I tell them to stop, but obviously, that just lets them carry on doing what they’re doing. Sometimes, though, ignoring them just encourages them, and they keep following you and trying to talk to you until you eventually tell them to go away. But basically, there’s no way that you can come out of that situation without feeling reduced in some way.

Some say you should take it as a compliment, since that’s how they intend it, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. I just want to be able to walk down the street and live my life without having someone I don’t know, and whose attention I wasn’t looking for, coming up to me and saying something to me that makes it clear that they’ve been looking at me and would want to touch me or even force themselves on me, if they could. I wish I knew more about what to do the next time something like this happens – it surely won’t be long.

I’m from the UK originally, and I don’t have a single female friend who hasn’t been sexually harassed or assaulted. On nights out, we often get men groping us, cornering us or blocking our paths. At seventeen, when I was walking home, some man in a car yelled “Get your rack out, you slut!” at me. I tried to pretend it didn’t bother me, but I cried for much of the way home. A close friend of mine was felt up at a bus stop. At university, another friend of mine was raped.

It makes me sick, and I want it to stop.