I’ll never forget the first time I experienced street harassment--it was a bitter cold day the January I was eleven years old, on the main street of my hometown. A redheaded teen rolled down his car window upon spotting me and my friends, and as he passed us, shouted, “Hey! Do you want to have sex with us?!?”
My friends rolled their eyes, but kept walking.
“Can you believe that? That’s so wrong!” I said, feet stuck on the sidewalk, stunned.
“Come on, Sarah. It's gross, but don’t make a big deal out of it,” one of my friends offered.
“Yeah, don’t get so upset,” the other chimed in.
Embarrassed at my apparent overreaction, I kept my mouth shut for the rest of the day. But on the inside, I couldn’t shake an overwhelming sense of humiliation, like that man's words had somehow sullied me, unwanted though they were. I wasn't a child anymore; now it was possible for me to be seen as a sex object.
At that age, I remember being perplexed at why harassers thought these comments would get women to pay attention to them. Does this every work for you? I’d imagine myself inquiring.
But now I know the end goal of street harassment isn’t to get women to engage; the end goal is to remind women that our bodies are objects for public consumption, commentary, and abuse.
Former Chile president & executive of UN Women, Michele Bachlet, writing on the issue, says,
“Whether walking city streets, using public transport, going to school, or selling goods at the market, women and girls are subject to the threat of sexual harassment and violence. This reality of daily life limits women’s freedom to get an education, to work, to participate in politics – or to simply enjoy their own neighbourhoods.
Yet despite its prevalence, violence and harassment against women and girls in public spaces remains a largely neglected issue, with few laws or policies in place to address it."
So I've asked a handful of my friends to write about their personal experiences with street harassment, because in the words of Nish Weiseth, “personal narrative and story can be used to change lives, build bridges, affect change, and proclaims God’s Kingdom.”
Next week I'll be featuring these women's stories in several installments, offered in the hopes that in their telling, they regain some of the power that was taken from them in these moments of sexual harassment. And that ultimately, their words would serve as catalysts for conversation, change, and a fuller proclamation of God's Kingdom.
In the meantime, check out these great organizations and studies looking to shed light on and address the issue of street harassment--