The stories of street harassment that have been shared since I created the viral hashtag #NoWomanEver recently brought something to the surface that I have never discussed in detail: my first real experience with street harassment. I was 15 years old, my harasser turned stalker was 33. I used to walk to school every morning. The walk was almost two miles, but it was a breeze and a whole lot more peaceful than riding the RTD Bus (affectionately known as the rough, tough, and dangerous back then) in Inglewood, CA.
At 15 years old, I was about 5’8” and 160 lbs. I was fully developed like a woman, but I was VERY obviously a child. With a backpack, cool sneakers, and Blow Pops in my ponytail. I was well known in our neighborhood, therefore, people in the neighborhood would honk their horns or wave when I walked by. There were parents who would sometimes stop and give me a ride to school along with their family. This particular morning, the car that slowly pulled up next to me was a complete stranger. Some grown man in a red Toyota said “aye, what’s your name?” I kept walking. He said “so, you don’t have a name?” I kept walking, my head straight. When the traffic behind him started to honk he sped up and rolled off, but not before he yelled “oh, okay bitch. You think you ‘all that’, huh….” I was so confused! How was I a bitch? What did “think you all that” even mean? Why was an adult man stopping traffic to talk to a kid?
A few days later in nearly the exact same location, the same red car approached me. This time, he said no words as he eased his car next to the curb where I walked, followed alongside me for a few seconds, and stared. About a week later, he did the same thing again. I didn’t tell a soul, not even my parents. They had JUST grown comfortable with me walking in our neighborhood without a “buddy” from school. I didn’t want to let go of my freedom, but I was absolutely horrified of this man. A few weeks passed, and there were no signs of him. Then suddenly, he was back and worse than ever. He’d sit in his car at the end of my street, about a quarter mile from our apartment, and masturbate while he stared at me. I had no idea what to do, I felt ashamed, and I blamed myself for not wearing baggy clothing to hide my newly developed curves. This continued for three consecutive days, and all I did was pray from the time I shut my front door every step of the way to school. Finally, I decided on a new route.
After about a week on my new and much longer route to school, he found me. Once again, eased up next to me, dick in hand, and smiled like he’d just won a prize. I planned to memorize his license plate number and give it to the police if I ever saw him again. The very next day, as he waited in my path to show me how grown men masturbate, I got it. When I made it to school, I called my mom weeping and told her what happened. She had my stepdad pick me up and take me to file a police report. We were immediately told that the license plate number and my statement weren’t going to be enough to issue an arrest warrant. The officer basically said they’d need to send me out as a “sexy decoy” to catch him in the act. My dad almost lost his mind right there in the precinct, and My. Heart. Was. In. My. Shoes. I just kept thinking “HAVEN’T I SEEN ENOUGH OF THIS GROWN MAN’S PENIS?” My dad and I both quickly buckled our seat belts as we prepared to leave the parking lot. He said, “I’ll blow his fucking face off and rot in the penitentiary before I let anything happen to you”. I just nodded my head and cried, and we rode home in complete silence.
When my mom got home, she convinced me of the the unthinkable: I was strong enough and smart enough play a sexy (15 year old) decoy to help get this man arrested. The police officer and my parents were gonna wait two blocks away. I had my dad’s cell phone, and I was to call the awaiting officer if the man in the red car was jacking off in my path. Sure enough, I saw the car down the block. I pressed the “send” button on the cell phone, but I didn’t put the phone to my ear, just like the cop instructed. I walked, this time with confidence. Actually I strolled, very casually, right past his car. After countless days of feeling completely powerless, I had the power now! He was in the driver’s seat pleasuring himself, per usual. This time, he was shirtless, dick out, head thrown back. I’m sure the sirens really ruined his orgasm.
He was arrested. My parents pressed charges on my behalf and followed through until he was fully prosecuted. My mother attended his bond hearing. I testified in court. My mom was present for his sentencing. My 33 year old stalker went to prison for 7-10 years and upon his release, was registered as a sex offender.
Although I no longer worry about that man in particular, I am now 37 years old, and most times still very guarded in public spaces due to this horrifying experience from more than 20 years ago. Since then, I have feared for my safety during encounters with aggressive and inappropriate men. I’ve been ogled, followed, yelled at and berated more times than I care to recall. Most recently, a homeless man pulled his penis out to thank me for giving him a dollar two days before Christmas. It is important to consider the lasting effects of the street harassment that women endure. Women don’t consider cat-calling and sexually aggressive behavior to be sweet gestures or compliments. We are mostly disgusted, terrified and left feeling threatened by the toxic displays of so-called masculinity. It’s my desire that we can continue to bring awareness to the inexcusable nature of street harassment with the #NoWomanEver movement.