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STREET HARASSMENT & WOMEN
What Women Face Out There
Every day I take public transportation. This is the place where women deal with street harassment the most. When you are waiting for the bus, train or subway, you are the most vulnerable because you need to travel somewhere and often times you wait several minutes before the bus or train arrives to take you to your destination. Going to work, providing childcare for a family member, going to the doctor, shopping for groceries or going to your spiritual community are vitally important to your health and well being. You have a right to do those things without harassment.
These are personal stories I will share with you to give you an idea of what women face out there. Several years ago I was waiting for a bus on Lake Street and Bloomington in Minneapolis. A young man appeared and showed me photos of his wife and children while I was waiting for the bus. We talked for awhile. Then out of the blue he asked me if I had a boyfriend. At the time I did have a partner in my life, so I told him that I did have one in my life. Then he asked if I wanted another one. I told him, "No, one is enough!" We got on the bus on Lake Street. He sat down next to me and kept trying to convince me to date him. I kept moving around the bus, but he kept following me around. Finally he got off the bus. Thanks heavens! There are other women who have had tales such as this one.
I have been on the bus in the last five years and have been approached by intoxicated young men who have attended sports games, such as the Twins and Vikings, who wanted to date me on the spot. Keep in mind I do not know any of these men. I tell them that I am old enough to be your mother. Some of them tell me that they like older women. I have heard other in their 40's, 50's and 60's tell me similar stories. When I leave I usually tell them I am going to a kirtan and no one drinks at such places!
A few years ago I was on the bus on Lake Street going to the Uptown area to attend an event at the Unitarian Society where a political candidate was conducting an event. As I got on the bus I was immediately met by three men who were very drunk who were physically touching women's legs as they got on the bus. One of them started going after my legs. I took my hand and slapped their hands. I told them to stay away from my body. A block later the bus driver kicked them all off the bus for being drunk and for harassing women. People cheered when the driver threw them off the bus.
I am far from being alone when it comes to street harassment near or on public transportation. It is one of the most common places women are harassed besides public parks and schools.
Here are some suggestions on what you can do. Call 911 if you feel your safety or the safety of others are on the line. If you see someone being harassed, pretend that you know them and strike up a conversation with them to distract the harasser. You can also contact your bus driver to tell him or her about the problem. Some transit systems, like Metro, even have special police who deal with transit issues and crime. Another helpful phone number is the National (USA) Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673. Other countries have such hotlines also. Women's groups can also be helpful in providing counseling and legal help in dealing with emotional and other issues tied to such events.
Men need to start talking to other men about the issue. They can be helpful by speaking up when a woman is being harassed on the street by showing their disagreement with the harasser's actions. Spiritual communities can also have educational forums and discussions on the topic. Universities do have counselors who can help you if you are attending a university.
Even female professionals deal with being harassed on the street and in the work force. I have seen Metro Transit female drivers being hit on by men for dates. I always talk to them afterwards about the situation. I have known women in broadcasting who had this problem. A number of years ago I was in public radio and we had a harassment problem with a male who harassed almost all the female broadcasters at our radio station. Fox New's incidents with female broadcasters is hardly unique to the broadcasting world.
Keep in mind you do have a right to be respected in public space and a right to be safe. Everyone needs to step forward and stop the street harassment of women.
JAI SHRI MA! JAI SHRI EMPOWERMENT! JAI SHIR ADVOCACY!