Yesterday, I spoke to a high school class of juniors in Virginia, near where I live. I feel pretty safe and un-harassed most of the time and I was devastated to hear the stories of the girls in the class.
“When I was in sixth grade, I had to walk a long way home from the bus stop. A few times, men followed me. I ran to a store so they wouldn’t know where I lived,” one girls shared. As soon as she shared her story, the room flooded with tales from other girls: the sexual remarks shouted at them from cars; the man who made “humping” motions against a girl on a public bus; the “creepy men” following them in stores; the men masturbating in front of them at public swimming pools; the man who told a girl who fell off her bike to “get in the car.”
For many of the girls, this was the first time talking about these experiences. For all, it was the first time doing so in front of male classmates. The girls spoke about it in a matter-of-fact way, as part of their life. The boys were stunned by what they heard; several commented on how much their awareness was raised.
Sharing stories to raise awareness is what the upcoming International Anti-Street Harassment Week is all about. Street harassment can only begin to be curbed after more people are aware, first, that it happens; second, that it happens a lot; third, that it happens to most women and girls and many men in the LGBQT community; and fourth, that when it happens, it has a negative impact on the harassed people’s lives.
Both the male and female students in the class created artwork at the end, to be displayed at an art exhibit I’m co-curating with the Deaf Abused Women’s Network at MOCA DC on March 18, 3-9 p.m. in Washington, DC.
Read my Ms. Magazine blog post to learn more about what’s going on worldwide and how you can get involved. Help break the silence. Share your story. Listen to a story. Participate.