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As I was walking home, minding my own business, after a long and exhausting day at work, some 13-year-old kid looked at me and told me, as he passed me on the street: ‘You’re ugly.’ What makes people like this kid feel entitled to comment on a stranger’s appearance in public? I wanted to explain to him how wrong it all was, and tell him to think twice before harassing people, but what came out of my mouth was simply: ‘You’re an asshole.’ Which, to be fair, he was.
I was out with a bunch of friends at a pop-punk club night and we were having a dance on the wee stage they have in the bar. A guy came up behind me and I thought he was just coming to join in the dancing like other people had done earlier in the night. Instead, he grabbed all of my hair and shoved it in his face taking a massive sniff. I tried pulled away and he ran off, only one of my friends actually saw him and when he came back down to the bar a few times my boyfriend tried to catch up with him but he managed to disappear in to one of the many rooms that the pub has. It was disgusting, I felt properly violated and even though it was clear he was on something I wanted to confront him. I was so angry, as was my boyfriend and everyone I was with and I couldn’t stop looking over my shoulder for the rest of the night. It felt like a pointless thing to tell the bouncers about and because we couldn’t find him I feel like I have no way to really process this. It ruined my night and I feel disgusted that this guy will see no consequences for his actions.
Many of you will have heard of Poppy Smart, the brave woman who reported a group of builders to the police after almost a month of harassment on her way to work. Poppy has received a storm of online abuse after her report, from people calling her ‘silly’ to much worse sentiments. We at Hollaback! Edinburgh stand with Poppy and wish her all best, and thank her for her fight against street harassment. Having received and shared many stories similar to Poppy’s, in workshops and on our website, we know how threatening and intimidating such experiences can be, forcing the harassed person to change their behaviour in order to feel safe.
The streets belong to all of us, and we should all be able to feel safe and comfortable when moving in public spaces.
I wasn’t sexually harassed but felt intimated. During the festival 2014 I was sitting on a bench eating lunch on my own and a man in his 60s stood over me a bit too close for comfort and started to talk to me. I said sorry I’m not interested. He wouldn’t leave and I asked him to leave me alone please and talk to one of the many men surrounding me. I suddenly felt so angry when he wouldn’t stop asking me questions and he said that I was rude. He definitely would not respect my wishes when I asked him to leave me alone so I ran back into eat my lunch where I felt more comfortable.
One place I did not expect to to be harassed was my university library. An oppressive atmosphere hanging over the backing track of furious typing and louder-than-ever scribbling doesn’t exactly scream “sex” to me, but each to their own I suppose.
I was leaving the library after a long stint that had ended at 9 o’clock at night. It was a ten-minute walk back to my house, and I did it alone almost every day. As you can imagine I was absorbed in my own frazzled thoughts, probably somewhere in-between struggling to understand what I’d just been reading and wondering what on earth I was going to eat at that time of night. I was suddenly wrenched out of this state by a tall stranger, who forced himself into my solitary walk to inform me that he had been watching me in the library and that he thought I was “beautiful”.
Imagine how unnerving that is. To discover that, whilst you’ve been struggling to decipher Chaucer’s medieval poetry and hoping your heart doesn’t explode from a coffee-and-stress induced marathon, someone else has been eyeing you up like something served on a platter.
Sure people can say that women enjoy attention from men on the street, but I’m sorry to say that when you haven’t invited that attention and are as far from wanting sex as you can get, that kind of compliment just feels distressing. Now this guy wanted to walk with me, and talk with me, and I was in no kind of mood to be seduced. But of course harassment is only meant to be a compliment, and politeness dictates that you accept the compliment and endure the attention of the individual who wants to pay it to you. Never mind that I’d nearly cried several times that day from study anxiety and just wanted to go home and shut down.
Apart from those general gripes about my own mental state, there was also the area that I lived in to consider. The student-area was rife with girls being followed home, catcalled, and even flashed, and this strange man was built like a brick shithouse. Already wary on my night walks home, I now found myself eyeing up my harasser to see if I could “take” him if he was to attack me. It’s a horrible realisation that you are so much weaker than someone who potentially means you harm, and even worse when you start trying to plan how you might win a grapple by scratching their eyes out or punching in their nose.
You think that sounds extreme? Just ask how many of your female friends carry keys between their knuckles when they’re frightened out in public.
So you’re trapped with someone who is a potential attacker because they’ve been “nice” to you and so you have to flatter them by accepting their devotion. If you turn them away then you’re “paranoid”, or worse “flattering yourself”, and if you keep them on then they believe they’re being encouraged. You’re almost begging them to explicitly make a move so that you can seize the opportunity to tell them to back off with supporting evidence that, yes, they did have sexual intentions and did NOT just want to be friends.
My get-out card came when we were almost at my street and I was wondering how I could prevent this man from finding out where I lived. He asked me where I was going. “To mine and then back to my boyfriend’s,” I said.
“Oh… a boyfriend…” the stranger muttered under his breath.
And he just vanished. Because it doesn’t matter if your unannounced presence in a dangerous suburb for women is terrifying the living daylights out of your new companion. It doesn’t even matter that it’s the middle of the exam period and she’s just left the library when it’s dark and is probably in no mood to talk. It’s the guy she’s with that you want to avoid upsetting because, y’know, having someone attempt to steal your girl is way worse than the fear that someone might drag you somewhere and hurt you in the dark.
I was jogging with the dog, when I noticed a bench ahead of me had four men on it all with their heads turned right at me. I wasn’t wearing my glasses so I wasn’t sure if they were staring at me or someone near me. As I passed I looked straight ahead, then stupidly chanced a look back, but nope, they were all staring at me. No hollers. Very unnerving and very strange. I wasn’t sure how to handle it.
My lovely, kind and sweet partner who is a transgender woman was cruelly mocked by 2 men who passed her in the street. She has only started to be open about her transgender status as she previously feared being ostracized and harassed. This was one of the first times she went out dressed as a woman as she is still trying to improve her self-esteem in a world where “tranny” is still a commonly used insult. Unsurprisingly having her courage rewarded with such treatment has been a huge blow to her self-esteem and her journey towards building a happy life for herself as a woman. I wish those vile, ignorant pigs could live one day as a transgender person and then they might realize the damage such lack of respect can cause.
As I was walking from work to see a few friends this evening, I was surprised by some stranger on a bicycle a few feet away making weird noises at me, as if I were an animal. Not thinking more about it, I continued walking – at which point the stranger cycled past me SMACKED MY ASS and laughed, disappearing before I had time to really register what was happening. As I turned around to say something, the cyclist was already gone.
Is it too much to ask to be able to walk the streets of Edinburgh without fear of being harassed or assaulted? I can’t believe the entitlement of assholes like this, not only commenting on but physically violating another person’s body.
I shared my story with my friends, straight after the incident, and got much support and sympathy. We had a lovely evening, I’m happy to say, laughing together and looking forward to a future without street harassment.