Did You See Us?

We are in the Washington Post this morning covering the planned testimony to DC City Council’s Performance Oversight of WMATA this Wednesday. It’s exciting because it’s the first time we are testifying in front of the Council and perhaps the first time the Council is hearing from at least five different individuals about their experiences with Metro sexual harassment.

Overall, Dana did a good job of getting my quotes. There is one glaring issue: her lede

A man walks up to a woman on a Metro train and tells her she looks good in that skirt.

Is that an insult, sexual harassment or a compliment?

A grass-roots group says it’s a form of “street harassment” that has become all too common throughout the transit network.

First, I was never given that example and asked if it was a compliment, insult, or sexual harassment? So, there is that. Second, if I was given that example, I would have said, it depends. Not to be all lawyerly, but the reality is that it does depend. Much of what we are dealing with in defining public sexual harassment is creating a community definition. We said that from the start of our online presence. We–the staff, Board, volunteers–are not the Merriam Webster of what is street harassment. Rather, YOU are. You, the individual that felt harassment. You, the reader of the website. You, the commenter. That is what makes this space unique. Things that occur now and deemed appropriate would be considered offensive in Downton Abbey. Culture shifts, definitions move, and human beings interact differently.

What I would have said if Dana asked me the question, is if that person who gave the compliment got angry/insulted and started saying curse words and invading her space, that would be considered public sexual harassment. If that person who gave the compliment got angry/insulted and then decided to follow the target of his compliment (period) and/or attempted to touch her or take pictures of her underneath her skirt without her consent, that would be public sexual harassment (and attempted battery/assault). But, if that person who gave the compliment and the target of his compliment didn’t respond, and he continued on his merry way, it would be considered whatever the person who received that compliment considers it to be. Most people who receive that compliment would not consider that harassment. And, we at Collective Action for Safe Spaces don’t necessarily consider that public sexual harassment. But, let’s be real here.


Phew. Okay. There.

We know people minimize public sexual harassment and assault and boil it down to a woman being a target of a compliment and not being happy with it. Or not finding the person who stated the compliment attractive enough. Again, even if that does happen, our concern is to get WMATA to address incidents like this one, or this one, or even this one.

Public sexual harassment and assault is a big deal.

3 Responses

  1. dcn8v

    Just as an FYI, I’m the original poster for that last example you mentioned, and WMATA did a GREAT job of addressing that one. An off-duty Transit Police officer read my post on the Unsuck DC Metro blog, and set out to capture the offender based on my description. He and his partner caught the man doing the exact same thing to another woman and arrested him, leading to two convictions for this particular offender. The investigator and two detectives made the effort to come to my home to interview me, followed up numerous times with me to update me on the status of my case, and also attended the man’s court date and provided support. I’ve also spoken to one of them since then, when I saw the same offender on the tracks at L’Enfant- he was helpful then, too.

    So in some instances, there is a fantastic response. I will say, however, that I called to report this offender to the Transit Police line that’s published in the stations, which is 202-962-2121. They took my report and asked if I wanted an officer to meet me at the next station- probably the best they could do, under the circumstances (he had already exited the train). However it wasn’t until Unsuck published my story and the off-duty officer saw it that any discernable action was taken. I realize that mine may have been an exceptional case, but it proves that there are people in the Transit Police system who really do care about these kinds of crimes.

  2. SV

    I saw the article and while I was also disappointed with the way it opened, overall thought it was good coverage of the issue. And hopefully will encourage people to report incidents because I’m guessing most people don’t bother or don’t feel like there’s any point. Keep up the good work.

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