Unsafe on the metro: “I’m tired” of street & sexual harassment!

Location: Metro Center
Time: Late Night (12am-5am)

I was sitting alone at the edge of a mostly empty platform at 2 AM, waiting for an orange line train at Metro Center when it happened. I had been at a meeting with friends, which turned into food and eventually a late-night concert. A man walked toward me. I turned up my music and faced straight ahead. I had no reason to suspect that the man would say or do anything to me – except for my gut feeling and history of interactions with men late at night on the metro. He sat down on the bench across from me. I kept my eyes focused ahead, ignoring him. He waved his hand in my direction, trying to get my attention. I turned to him, taking out one earbud. He smiled at me. “You have fun tonight?” he asked cheekily. I didn’t want to talk to him or anyone else. I wanted to get home as soon as possible and sleep. “Yeah, sure,” I replied shortly, got up and walked away. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, offended. But he walked away and I let out a sigh of relief.

I kept an eye on him, he had only walked a little ways away. I made sure to not get on the same train car as him – opting instead for the nearly empty first car. I sat in the middle of the car, far away from the other man on the car and a few rows down from the women staring keenly at her iPod. I had been planning on dozing on this trip – I was very tired and it would make the long ride go faster. I rested my head on the window, about to close my eyes. But something stopped me. I was still feeling nervous and uncomfortable. Tonight, I decided, I would wait a little bit before trying to sleep. I stared straight ahead, looking at the reflection behind me in the window, to tired and worried to read my book.

Tired of street harassment!!

At the next stop, the man who had talked to me at Metro Center jumped train cars with two of his friends. They preceded to walk all the way to the other end of the train car. His two friends sat right behind me and he sat right across from me. I was suddenly paralyzed with fear. I turned up my music so I couldn’t hear what they said, tried to become as small as possible, and kept looking straight ahead, paying careful attention to their reflection in the window. I didn’t know what they were saying or why they had come onto the train. All I know is that I had explicitly and curtly rejected any interactions with this man and now he was sitting very close to me on train car full of seats. I had done everything I thought I was supposed to do – I had been clear and assertive, distanced myself from him, yet he was still there, frighteningly present.

I weighed my options. I didn’t want to move to another seat, because I was so close to the front of the car that I would have to walk past them to move. I could ask to sit next to the other woman on the train car. But, I worried they would notice and take enough offense to say something. I could leave the train and wait another twenty minutes for the next one. Or I could sit facing straight ahead, purposefully ignoring them and hoping that they wouldn’t say anything to me. This is what I ended up doing. After five stops, the man who had talked to me got off the train. I breathed an audible sigh of relief. The last of his two friends, however, did not get off the train until three stops before mine, at the end of the line. It wasn’t until then that I could feel totally comfortable in the now completely empty car.

You may think my fear and indignation at the event is an overreaction. The man said a few words to me and then sat near me. Trust me when I say it isn’t. I’ve been hit on, propositioned, screamed at, and once physically hit on the metro by men who were interested in me. I work at Union Station and literally every time I go there I receive cat calls. And I’m tired of it. I’m tired of feeling powerless when a man on a bike asks me if “my pussy is wet.” I’m tired of having to constantly work out escape methods when I ride the metro after dark. I’m tired of automatically thinking any man walking to close to me is a possible threat. [Emphasis by CASS.]

I can almost here some people’s answer to this. Stop going out alone at night. That, my friend, is not the answer. Because that answer, places the blame on me. It places the blame on my mere existence after midnight. It asks me to give up part of my life because others can’t find the decency to respect my autonomy. Well, I refuse. I refuse to allow that to be the answer. I refuse to stop living my life to avoid these men. I refuse to give up late night memories of falafels and punk rock. I refuse to stop going to after-work meetings. I refuse to stop visiting new places in pursuit of knowledge. [Emphasis by CASS.] The real answer, I think, is for the men reading this. Evaluate how you interact with women and your friends. Before you hit on a woman consider these questions. Are you on a train car, bus, or somewhere where she can’t escape you easily? Don’t do it. Are you two alone in an isolated area? Don’t do it. Is it late at night? Don’t do it. Are you not willing to immediately leave if she shows any signs at all of discomfort? Don’t do it. Do you just plan on shouting at her, “is your pussy wet?” Don’t do it.

PS: I also posted this on my tumblr, but my friend suggested I send it here.

Submitted on 2/23/13 by Kathryn Seidewitz

Do you have a personal experience with gender-based public sexual harassment or assault?
Submit your story to help raise awareness about the pervasiveness and harmful effects of street harassment. All submissions are posted anonymously unless otherwise specified.

If you experience or have experienced sexual harassment on the DC Metro system:
Please consider reporting to Metro Transit Police: www.wmata.com/harassment; 202-962-2121.

14 Responses

  1. Julia

    That last paragraph is POWERFUL! Thank you for sharing your experience. Your words help validate others (and there are many) who have had similar experiences.

    • Kathryn Seidewitz

      Thank you!

  2. John

    I agree. Very powerful, and I wish you didn’t have to restructure your life because of a bunch of perverts and losers who enjoy intimidating women. Unfortunately, none of those guys are going to read these posts. I’m sure things are changing little by little, especially in mainstream society. I heard about all of this after watching a show on FX, and I was glad that it was being talked on fairly national stage. I wonder though if the solution for you is to demand that these men stop doing what they do. Referencing a woman’s genitalia, that’s some sick shit, and hearing that you get a sense of what that guy thinks about when he’s out in public. Obviously he isn’t a happy guy and probably has gotten his comeuppance more than a few times, but that’s besides the point. Demanding that men change is important; it’s tough for me to actually write that sentence, as it challenges some of my beliefs. Personally, I think it is too much of a generalization; I think there are more men who do not partake in that type of behavior than those who do. Regardless, it’s going to be extremely difficult to change the culture of the street corner – for whatever reason, and I grew up chilling in these street corners with my friends, hollering at ladies who walk by is almost a cultural imperative. If you voiced any objection, you’d be labeled a homosexual, which was probably the worst thing you could be called among my friends. I realize I’m rambling. It just seems to me that you are, understandably, suffering a great deal at the hands of some very ignorant people, who will most likely not change, at least not very easily, but there a lot of good people out there, too. A lot of people who will look you in the eyes when they talk to you, who won’t follow you in the street. Without balance, we are prone to developing hatred; I myself became pretty racist, ironically, as I “escaped” from the neighborhood that had reared me. It took a long time to extinguish that hatred and gain some perspective. I hope that you will be able to achieve the same sort of peace. Optimism is the surest sign of sanity.

    • renee

      Beautiful response, and spot-on about needing to change the culture – with the help of male allies! This is a great group: http://www.mencanstoprape.org

  3. D

    Looking at their reflection instead of right at them is a good way of keeping your eye on potential harassers without looking directly at them. I do this constantly and it’s a way of keeping two steps ahead.

    I love how regardless of how scared you were, you aren’t going to let harassers control how you live your life and go about your day. I also love how you called out those potential jerks who’ll tell you what you should’ve/shouldn’t have done.

    You are brave, powerful, and strong. The harassers are the ones that are the lamebrains and cowards. You’re awesome!

    • Kathryn Seidewitz

      Thank you so much! This means a lot.

  4. renee

    Thanks for this post, Kathryn! Great to see the overwhelming response it’s gotten. It’s clear lots of folks can relate.

  5. Caroline Lukas

    Hi Kathryn,
    Your post was incredibly powerful and I thank you for sharing your experience.
    I do encourage you, and everyone else who may be reading this entry, to put the Metro Transit Police number into your phone (202.962.2121).
    Any woman riding on Metro should know that they are there to assist you if you ever find yourself in a frightening situation.

    Caroline Lukas
    Metro Media Relations

    • renee

      Thanks, Caroline!

    • Anonymous

      Written by a typical do-nothing loser. Caroline Lukas wouldn’t waste a second out of her day actually taking some risk to do what’s right. Just another useless piece of trash collecting a paycheck and hoping she gets to retirement before anybody notices.

      • renee

        Though CASS believes in open dialogue and publishes all comments that
        do not violate our anti-racism policy, we do not support the comment above
        nor do we believe it adds anything constructive to the conversation.

        Caroline Lukas has invited CASS to the table time and time again, and
        has taken our recommendations for metro improvements seriously. CASS
        believes in collaboration as well as open, respectful dialogue, to
        which this comment does not contribute.

  6. Anonymous

    Say HI to your useless government. D.C., the seat of power in this country. And they can’t even protect the streets. Instead, they leave the citizens in a state of stress and powerless to deal with these thugs on their own.

    And what if one of us decides to take matters into our own hands and hunt these thugs? Suddenly, we become the criminals. The D.C. police, like all police departments, are full of uneducated yes-men. ESPECIALLY D.C. How many fat useless cops do they employ? They ARE the thugs as well. They just happened to get a government job.

    Thug creeps are so easy to spot. I could clean up the metro in a month. Easily. But of course, the crooks in power don’t like capable citizens who decide to do what the police *should* be doing. So, they’ll assemble a jury full of ignorant working class idiots who will believe whatever fairy tale the corrupt judge/DA/Prosecuter have agree’d upon. “oh, you bad little vigilante. don’t you know? the only people who get to kill people are thug cops with a GED”.

    Humanity is a joke. Nothing but a bunch of deceptive lying sociopaths in power who don’t care AT ALL about what happens on the streets.

  7. yikes

    Wow, someone got up on the wrong side of bed today!

    • Ms. D

      No joke. I’m sure there’s room for improvement in our police services, but I’ve generally experienced polite, attentive, professional, and, yes, even *caring* behavior from them, for everything from a nuisance (there’s a strung-out dude walking up and down my street yelling) to a bona-fide emergency (hey, I just got home and, apparently, someone broke into my house and stole my stuff), from high levels (our lieutenants and captains) to the workaday folks (the 911 operator on that burglary call who told me that if I didn’t get out of my house RIGHT NOW she’d have the police arrest me for disturbing a crime scene…”better robbed than dead,” I believe she said, and while her words were harsh, I needed them to jolt me out of my shock and realize that I could be in danger…I had been insisting that the burglars were gone when she yelled at me to get out of the house after I said I was calling from in the house…once I confirmed I had gone back into the front yard and, yes, there were neighbors out and about, she apologized and told me to WAIT THERE for the police to make sure my house was safe).

      And, uh, if “concerned citizens” could do so much, then why are most of us left standing around helplessly when there are often HUNDREDS of witnesses to blatant harassment? You’d blow someone’s head off but not say “knock it off, buddy,” or take up the seat next to a victim to give the jerk reason to reconsider, or call the police yourself, or even wait around to give the police a statement and description? Big man, and all that…