28 Troubling Stories Of Street Harassment
As International Anti-Street Harassment Week comes to a close, here are stories from BuzzFeed employees about the times they felt unsafe in a public space.
Once I was walking down the street in my neighborhood on a beautiful day and I passed a five-story apartment building. A guy stuck his head out of one of the windows all the way at the top and yelled for me to stop to talk to him. I'm like, WTF, I'm not going to shout up at you to have a conversation that I don't even want to have, so I continue walking. A few steps later I hear a thud behind me and turn to see that he had thrown a book at me from the window. —Tracy Clayton
"Once a guy was staring at me on a train. He had to get past me to get off the train at his stop. As he did so, he whispered, 'sex, follow' at me and rubbed his two forefingers against his thumb, maybe implying that there was cash money in it for me?" —Robyn Wilder
"When I lived in Philly I was walking home one night in the rain and some guy did the typical whistle/say-something-vulgar thing to me. I don't know why, but I just snapped. I turned around and I beat him on the knees with my umbrella, and started chasing him. It was...something." —Julie Gerstein
"I was walking down a busy street in Providence. To provide some context, I was not, for example, wearing overalls or my hair in pigtails or jaywalking or leading a cow. A guy in a car leaned out and yelled, 'Hey, did you grow up on a farm?!' I did not have time to reply that, no, while I grew up semi-rurally, I did not in fact grow up on a farm, why?" —Sandra Allen
"One time in a bar a guy grabbed my butt and before I even knew what I was doing, I watched myself slap him across the face. And it was awesome." —Deena Shanker
"The worst was the summer I lived in Paris when I was 19 and I was walking around with two girlfriends in the early evening. A group of men started whistling and walking behind us, and as we started speeding up without saying anything, they got faster and louder. Eventually my friend Allison turns around and starts screaming at them to leave us alone and we start really hoofing it. They responded by yelling something that translated roughly to "American sluts! you know you want this!" Anyway, they finally dropped off and we were terrified and shaking for, like, a solid 30 minutes." —Kate Nocera
"I was walking from my apartment to the subway, minding my own business, when I dropped my phone on the sidewalk. I picked it up and went on my merry way when next thing I know, I hear this man shout, "Do it again!' I turn around to see this 60- or 70-year-old man with his iPhone pointed at my ass. Let's say the only thing he ended up getting was a picture of my middle finger." —Alexandra Vucetic
"I was being followed by a guy asking me to 'give a smile' for a few blocks, and finally turned around and screamed, 'Shut the fuck up' at him. He punched me in the face, and I fell down. My chin was split open and I was bleeding a lot; I don't totally know if it was from the punch or hitting the ground. This all happened in the middle of the day in front of an NYU dorm. A few people around went in to get the security guard from the dorm, who sort of half yelled for the guy, but the guard had this really exaggerated limp, so it wasn't like he was going to chase him down or anything. I went back to my apartment and grossed out my roommate with my giant flap of skin hanging open from my face and went to the doctor. I ended up with about five stitches in my chin, which I still have a scar from. I told my parents I had slipped and fallen because I didn't want them to worry that New York City wasn't safe." —Katie Notopoulos
"Once my friend and I were walking down a block in Manhattan. She is tall and was wearing awesome space-pattern leggings, and one of a small cluster of bros driving by in an SUV yelled something like, 'Nice legs, honey!' out the window. She yelled back, 'Fuck off, fuckrag!' — to which one of them replied, 'Thanks for the update!' Despite the crappy human from whence it came, I still consider that probably the best all-purpose insult comeback I've ever heard." —Rachel Sanders
"Besides the usual stuff, a man once told me he wanted to lick my feet, which was so weird I just started laughing. The worst, though, was in a crowded subway when a guy patted up on my boob, and when I smacked his hand away, he said, 'No pasa nada' (I was in Spain). I said, 'Fuck you,' and then he proceeded to laugh." —Chelsea Marshall
"I was walking with my brother in Dublin early one night when a boy — probably around 14 years old — pinched my ass as he walked past me. Like, I had a skirt on, and he dipped his hand underneath it to pinch me. I was so taken aback that I actually just stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and turned around to see if it had really happened, and he was already on his skateboard with some friends (though he took a second to wag his tongue at me)." —Arianna Rebolini
"I was on a subway a few months ago when a creepy older busker who was playing saxophone or something started blowing his horn right in the face of the blonde woman sitting next to me. After, like, four really loud incidents, she asked him pretty politely to stop and leave her alone, at which point he leaned in really close to her face and said something about how he'd like to fuck her. I snapped and screamed about as loud as I could for him to leave her the fuck alone, at which point he called me a cow and said I was just jealous. This was on a crowded L train at 6:30 p.m. and not a single other person on the train said anything or looked up from their shoes. New York!" —Summer Anne Burton
"Besides the usual, the one and only time I have punched someone in my life was when a guy came up to me at night on the street — it was near Columbia in New York City — and put his arms around me in a bear hug. I wish I could say I decked him, but I am small and weak, so it was more a series of jabs on his arms just trying to get free. He then ran away because people were approaching. For some reason, it wasn't terrifying while it was happening, but it was after." —Kate Aurthur
"I was walking in Cairo with two female friends when a group of young men started catcalling us in Arabic. We were all dressed modestly, long sleeves, scarves, long pants or an ankle-length skirt, but they continued nonetheless — they started following us down the street. After a block of this, one of my friends turned around and started yelling at them in Arabic. They looked really shocked that we (or some of us) could understand them and actually turned around and slinked off. I asked my friend what she'd said, and she said she'd asked them how they would feel if someone talked to their mothers or sisters like this and that they should be ashamed of themselves." —Ellie Hall
"I think I've blocked the creepier ones from memory, but the strategy I find most obnoxious is when guys say, 'You dropped something' just to get you to talk to them, when you did NOT drop anything. I've fallen for that a few times. But the best time was when a guy said, 'Miss! Miss! You dropped something!' and he was yelling really persistently and seemed serious, so I asked, 'Me?' Annoyed, he said, 'No! Not you.' He was trying to get the attention of the woman walking in front of me. She hadn't dropped anything either." —Joanna Borns
"Ugh, subways. Last week I was coming home late-ish on the train and noticed a guy fiddling with his pants. When I got up to move to the other side of the car, he made eye contact and said thank you. A few months ago I also happened upon a subway masturbator who was waiting on the stairs going down to the platform. It was 7 a.m. before coffee and I screamed and ran down past him, but a train had just left so there were maybe one or two people on the platform and it was like nothing had happened." —Anonymous
"I always think it's a little scary the first time I wear shorts each spring, or really wear anything that feels 'conspicuous.' But the episodes of street harassment that stand out most to me are the ones when I've been hissed at, once each in Spain and in Illinois, where I went to college, and was shocked both times to realize that angry animal noise was directed at me. Both times I was walking to school, alone, early in the morning, and there was nobody around, and I wasn't close to school yet. So I didn't do anything." —Katie Heaney
"Freshman year of college, I had shaved my head Sinead O'Connor style and got a lot of street harassment from that, even in a cool and supposedly 'tolerant' town like Austin, Texas. One time I was walking with friends in the neighborhood west of UT campus and some guys up on a balcony started yelling 'dyke!' at me, repeatedly. I was a little drunk and got very upset (having had this happen to me a number of times before), and so I started yelling back — something to the effect of, 'YEAH, I WOULDN'T SUCK YOUR DICK FOR A MILLION DOLLARS.' I ended up having to go to the party these balcony assholes were at and when I saw them there I stared daggers, but I wish I would have confronted and loudly drawn attention to their cowardly antics." —Lizzy Walker
"Once when a guy told me I'd have a pretty face if I smiled and I ignored him, he immediately followed up with (paraphrased), 'Gross thick-ass bitch, no wonder no one wants to fuck you' as if the fact that I'm a size 12/14 means that I should be grateful for the 'compliment.' Unwanted male attention is never a fucking compliment." —Krutika Mallikarjuna
"I was in a church in Russia once when this old man saw me praying and offered to give me a candle that I could put into the section where you light a candle for a relative who's passed. At first I was suspicious, as I always am when a man offers to give me something for free that normally costs money, and then I felt bad and thought, That's terrible, Diana. This nice, religious old man is doing something sweet for you and you're suspecting him of being a pervert. So I thanked him for the candle and he went away and I kept praying. A few seconds later he came back and cupped my boob." —Diana Bruk
"I had just moved to L.A. and was walking back from the grocery store with my mom. Some guy on the sidewalk called to get our attention and flashed us. When we kept walking, he yelled, 'Hey bitch, let me fuck you in the ass.' It was disgusting, and I felt dirty for the remainder of the weekend." —Madison Medeiros
"I was once walking to BART in San Francisco at 9 a.m. and some dude behind me tried to get my attention with the standard 'hey baby' stuff. I ignored him and crossed the street, he followed. He walked up behind me and tried to put his arm around me and I pushed him off. At this point, I started to get a little bit freaked out because he was more persistent (at 9 a.m.!!) than most street harassers. I ducked into McDonald's and got a hash brown, and when I crossed over to the BART entrance, he was standing in front of the stairs. You know how those dudes always try to turn it around, like, 'Oh, fuck you, I didn't want to talk to you anyway' bullshit? This dude's attempt at demeaning me was, 'Fuck you, Harry Potter nerd bitch!'" —Lindsey Adler
"Walking back to my apartment in Crown Heights one night with my roommate, I noticed there was a man starting to follow us. My roommate didn't realize he was behind us, though I could feel the panic building in my body as he came closer and closer. From the side of my eye I noticed a black car slowly pulling up to us from the side. Seriously, was this really happening? Double harassed. But just as the man behind us was going to make contact, a man from inside the car rolled down his window and aggressively yelled at the man behind us: 'Hey, leave these ladies alone! Are you both all right? Sir, please stop.' The man following us quickly turned and left, and the man in the car kindly drove next to us until we got to our apartment. So, that's my knight-in-shining-car story." —Ashley Perez
"Once I was on the train going home, sleepy on a Friday night (at, like, 11 p.m.), closing my eyes because that is what sleepy people do on long subway rides home. This did not deter two idiots (part of a larger group of four or five dudes) from sitting on either side of me and spewing all sorts of nonsense about how 'beautiful' I was and 'hey can I talk to you' yada yada. Largely ignoring their advances didn't seem to work, as they then decided to comment on how my closing my eyes was my 'defense' (uh, what?). After one stop, I'd had it. I had a half-hour ride left, so I got up and said, 'I don't want to fucking talk to anyone right now.' One of the guys is like, 'Oh, are you getting nervous? Is that your defense or something?' I was so pissed at this point, I responded with something snarky about how I don't get nervous around morons.
I go into the next train car to resume my slumber. Fast-forward two stops: The whole crew also appears in this train car, one looks me in the eye, and says, 'Guess who's bizzack!'
Me: 'Did you really come into this car just to bother me? Seriously?'
Dude: 'Don't gas yourself up. Just saying guess who's back.'
Me: 'Then don't look at me when you speak.'
Dude, to other dude friend: 'She thinks she's a 10 when she's really like a 5.'
What??? Just recounting this story makes my blood boil." —Emmy Favilla
"When I was at uni, I was catching the bus home one day, and this guy behind me was talking to his friend across the other side of the bus about what color pubes he thought I and the other women on the bus had. He mumbled something about 'licking' and I was so offended I turned around and asked him to please stop. I turned back around and he then sat there and muttered about how he was going to rape me and strangle me, and when we got to his stop he was going to get all his mates to rape me too. I went and told the bus driver straight away. After I pointed the guy out, the driver said, 'OK, wait until the next stop,' and told me to sit down next to this elderly lady right at the front of the bus, near the door. The lady asked me if I was OK and tried to comfort me. The bus got to the next stop and as the driver was getting up to say something, the guy and his friend walked off the bus — as he walked past me he said, 'I'm getting my mates and we're coming for you.' The bus driver basically shook his fist at him but he was off the bus so nothing else happened. I burst into tears and the elderly lady gave me a hug and basically held me until I got off the bus 20 minutes later." —Jenna Guillaume
"There's this path around my development back home that my mom and I like to walk together on, and every time, without fail, gross guys in a truck or a group of high school boys honk at us. It's not as scary as some of the experiences I've had in the city (when a guy can actually follow you around), but it's always startling and ruins what should be a peaceful walk with my mom." —Julia Pugachevsky
"A few years ago a guy followed me from Tompkins Square Park to my apartment, repeatedly hollering, 'Ni hao ma.' I did my best ignoring him, as this was not the first (or second or eighth) time those words and this particular scenario had played out.
A few blocks later he yelled, 'Oh, you're ignoring me 'cause I'm black?' — to which I responded, 'I'm ignoring you 'cause you're fucking annoying.'" —Tanya Chen
"I thought this workplace-focused study by Beth A. Quinn, 'Sexual Harassment and Masculinity: The Power and Meaning of "Girl Watching,"' was really interesting because she found that that 'no man discussed girl watching in initial accounts of his workplace' even though all the women she interviewed at the same office said it was a regular part of their daily routine. Basically, it was so second nature to them as a bonding/reasserting masculinity thing that they didn't even realize they were doing it.
After I read that, I got really into talking back to particularly gross and annoying street harassers in an attempt to snap them out of the zone and remind them the people they're yelling at are real people, but obviously that won't work for people who feel unsafe, etc. I find it pretty cathartic, though, when I'm in a public space! Like one time some dude told me my skirt was too short and I told him I didn't really care if he liked my outfit. And then he said, 'Well, you look like trash,' and I was just like, 'I think you look gross too.'" —Katie Baker