“When I was a college freshman, there was an older guy (senior) who decided to take interest in me. I was obviously younger than him, and truth be told, I wasn’t interested in him in the least. I told him this in what I thought was a nice way, explaining that I just saw him as a friend.
He didn’t take no for an answer. He began showing up to the same places I was, sending me flowers, buying me gifts, having his friends Facebook message me, chat me, text me, call me, etc. It got so extreme that I felt almost as if I should go on a date with him JUST TO GET HIM TO STFU.
One night at a party, he and a bunch of his friends came toward me and asked me why I thought I was too good for him. I was terrified. They had been drinking, and in that moment I started to flat-out panic. He tried to kiss me, I ducked, and nothing happened… but I’ve never forgotten that. It seems minor compared to most, which is what scares me, because that moment has never left me.”
“When I was in the sixth grade, a boy in my class kept trying to hold my hand at our school dance. I told him to stop, and when I did, he stomped away to the bathroom and tore a paper towel dispenser off the wall. He ran back and yelled at me that he was going to bring a gun to school on Monday because of what I had done. When I told the teacher who was chaperoning the dance, she asked me what I’d done to upset him so much.”
“This is actually pretty recent, but it’s the first time I experienced street harassment that went beyond a quick cat call, a gross comment, etc.
I’m sure other people have way worse stories than this, but just the other day I was walking from my boyfriend’s apartment to my apartment and a man pulled up next to me on his bike and followed me for blocks, telling me I was beautiful, asking for my number, etc. I couldn’t get away from him because he was on a bike, I was on foot, and this was in the small Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, D.C., where the sidewalks are narrow and there aren’t many stores and things to duck into.
I used the ‘I have a boyfriend’ line because I was afraid it would anger him if I simply told him to fuck off. But even that didn’t stop him, he kept being like, ‘I hope your boyfriend tells you every day how beautiful you are’ and other creepy stuff. I was really worried he was going to follow me all the way to my house and didn’t really know what to do. Finally he did leave me alone but I was very conscious that it could have escalated.”
“When I broke up with my first boyfriend, he dropped out of school and joined the army. We had been dating less than a month, and I broke it off because it became clear he was much more interested than I was and even then I knew that wasn’t fair.
He made a big show that day of coming up to me and my friends in the cafeteria with his dropout form and his army enrollment and telling everyone it was my fault. That I’d pushed him to do it. That he didn’t have any choice.
It was 2003, and since he didn’t even have a high school diploma he was put on the front lines and sent right to Fallujah after basic. Once he left, his mom started calling me and saying it would be my fault if he died. That I’d essentially killed her son for dumping him. I was 14.”
“When I was a barista at Starbucks in California, I had numerous male customers that would harass me at work, some more threatening than others. I had one regular customer, Tom, who would say things like, ‘Oh, sorry, I couldn’t hear what you were saying because I was too busy staring at your ass’ — loud enough for other customers to hear. They didn’t say anything, and I was too young/embarrassed/didn’t know any better to know that I could say something.
Another customer would bring in ‘gifts’ such as an apple (“An apple for the teacher!” he’d say) or tickets for a concert. He’d come and ask me about his gifts when he knew I’d be alone, such as taking out the trash after dark. The worst was when he’d sit outside the store, parked right outside the building, and just watch me make people’s drinks.
My manager eventually said something to the second guy, but I never felt like it was OK for me to just say, ‘LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE.’ This was probably a combination of not feeling empowered by my company to feel I would be in my right to speak up, and fearing for my safety if I said something to the customers.”
“I was living in London and working late nights at a bar/club. The tube (the subway there) shuts down after a certain point and there are night buses that replace the train lines. New to the city, I was still a little unfamiliar with the night bus routes, so one night at about 4:30 a.m., I ended up hopping on the wrong one. Once the bus started veering off in an unfamiliar direction, I must’ve looked concerned enough that another passenger, a guy probably no older than 20 or so, had noticed. We made eye contact and I simply asked if this bus stopped at the stop I was looking for. He said no, at which point I asked the bus driver how to get home. He told me to get off at the next stop and transfer to another bus. OK.
I get off, only to realize that the stranger I had spoken to moments earlier had gotten off too. No big deal. Until I noticed him to my side, also looking at the bus map I was reading to figure out how the hell to get home. I rationalized that this must’ve just been his stop as well, and he was simply trying to be nice and see that I knew how to find my way home (even though he didn’t really say much to me, and sort of just nodded when I said I was going to be fine). I cross the street. He crosses the street. This is when I start to get a little creeped out. It’s nearing 5 a.m., I’m in a desolate part of a still unfamiliar city, nothing is open, and a man who, though slender, could easily take me, is following me through the streets. I don’t start to really panic until he GETS ON THE NEXT BUS WITH ME. At this point I’m a little afraid to approach him and tell him, no, it is not OK that you’re following me home. I said nothing.
Now it’s so early in the morning that the tube is about to re-open soon, and I see a familiar tube station, so I quickly ask the bus driver of this second bus to let me off in between stops. The suspicious man ALSO GETS OFF, and this is when I completely lose it. As soon as I notice that he was following me into the station, I shout, ‘Do you think I don’t notice you following me? What are you doing?!?!’ and throw some curse words and threats of calling my boyfriend to come meet me (it was the only thing I could think to say! I was truly panic-stricken). I guess I must’ve scared him off, because he ran in the other direction, and I never saw him again.”
“When I was a freshman in high school, I was cornered by my locker every day for almost a year by a group of about five or six guys. They were always early to their class and just bored waiting around, and I was one of the only people in that hallway at that time of day. They would say, ‘Did you know your locker’s open?’ (a euphemism for sex? I’ll never know, I guess) and stand really close to me while I got my books out. At first, I would try flipping them off or telling them to fuck off, but they’d just laugh and stand closer. I also considered going to my locker at a different time, but that was honestly the most convenient time and I also felt that dodging them would only provoke them to seek me out elsewhere. So I tried to hold my ground. This progressed to them trying to lean back on me at gym class when we were sitting in line and saying, ‘Your locker’s open’ any time any of them walked by me in the hall. I didn’t tell anyone because I was embarrassed to a mortifying degree and also got the impression that at least one person would react by saying one of them had a crush on me or something. So I just silently endured it and hoped I’d have a different locker the next time around.
My wish came true sophomore year. On that first day, though, one of the guys saw me in the hallway and still muttered, ‘Your locker’s open’, but more passively than usual. I braced myself for another 365 days of stress, but, luckily, the whole gag diffused and I was left alone until senior year when one of them grabbed my ass really quickly in gym class, just for old time’s sake, I guess.”
“I was 12 in our town’s center, where there’s food, a playground, and shops, when I started getting bothered by a man who worked at the hot dog stand. At first, I would just hear a psssssst from behind a screen and I assumed it was another kid bein’ weird. He would shout things like ‘beautiful’ or ‘nice top’ and it creeped me out, but I wasn’t necessarily scared by it because again… I thought maybe it was a kid. One day, he opened the door and I saw he was in his twenties or thirties and he asked me a question I don’t remember because I became really, viscerally sick about it. I said, ‘I’m 12!’ and ran away and avoided walking by there for a few years.”
“It was a quick flight from South Korea to the Philippines, but I was still exhausted when I landed in the tiny island airport in Boracay. Traveling alone as a woman is always slightly unsettling, so I was happy to be in a car headed to my hotel near the beach. A few moments later a large, middle-aged Australian man joined me in the car. The driver has stepped out for a moment to collect any straggling passengers, and I felt the small shift all women experience when their fear is suddenly turned back on. Is he going to hurt me? Am I safe? It’s sad how those questions have become a reflex to so many of us.
The man was nice enough at first, asking polite questions about my travels, had I been to the Philippines before, etc. But then came the question that always makes my skin crawl, ‘So you have a boyfriend?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied curtly. ‘He’s meeting me here. He had to take a later flight.’ I didn’t have a boyfriend, but I knew immediately I had to lie. After a few more anecdotes about my imaginary beau, I could feel this slimy stranger releasing his imaginary grip from my body and my time. He couldn’t have me because I was someone else’s. It saddens me that it took the presence of another man (even an imaginary one) for this man to respect my space. Why did he respect me as another man’s property and not simply as a human being? These are questions that still haunt me, and the truth is until they’re answered, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to travel freely without a little bit of fear mixed into my relaxation.”