Even the Cop Did Nothing: A Story of Street Harassment
The video above was created by an organization called Vocativ.
I don't want to nit-pick the video, or the thousands of ignorant and hurtful comments viewers have posted about it. I just want to share a story.
The first time I was publicly groped, it was by some man in the Navy. I was 15. I'd guess he was no more than 25. I was hanging out with my friends by the docks in a little town called Northport on Long Island. We always hung out by the docks and the adjacent part. The streets were so crowded with people that lovely summer night that we had to squeeze along parts of the sidewalk.
I was narrowing my way through the crowd, trying to pass some people, when a young man dressed in a Navy uniform grabbed my ass. It was obvious and intentional. There was no mistaking it.
Let me just get this out of the way. Back then, I consistently dressed in baggy clothes. I don't have cleavage to show. I wasn't one to make eye contact with strangers.
Bear in mind, too, that he was in the Navy with dozens of other Navy cadets and officers around him. I was a 15-year old girl with one tiny friend by my side. Clearly, I was not going to physically assault the guy. I'm not stupid.
In the video above, one woman describes not knowing what to do when she was groped by a man on a crowded subway train who was masturbating behind her while leaning up against her. And it's true: We women are not trained in what to do in this situation, when the violence and power play are so subtle that they happen right in public. Scream out of nowhere, and people will treat you like you're crazy. There's a split second when the assault starts when you think to yourself, "Surely this is an accident. Surely this man is brushing up against me accidentally and doesn't realize it." And you know that if you react too quickly, he will say exactly that: "What are you talking about, you crazy bitch?" And you'll be left in the defensive position. It is extremely difficult to react.
So let me tell you what I did.
I spotted a cop, maybe 30 feet away. I went up to that cop.
"Excuse me," I said. "You see that group of Navy guys over there? One of them just groped me."Pause.
"And?" he said.
I stared in disbelief.
"Do you want to press charges?" he asked.
"No, I don't want to press charges—"
"—then there's nothing I can do," he said. "What would you like me to do?"
I was livid.
"What I want you to do," I said, "Is go over there and let them know that that's not okay. What I want you to do is keep an eye on them so they don't do something worse to some other girl."
If you're a man and have never been cat-called or publicly harassed or groped, you're absolutely unlikely to understand how it happens and why it is so difficult to react in the way you probably imagine you would react. It is a power play. Think about this for just a moment. Think about the fact that I found a police officer and reported what happened to him, within moments of it happening, with the perpetrator still in sight, and he told me there was nothing he could do. Just think about that for a moment.