“How A Bystander Intervened To Help Me Avoid Street Harassment”

Location: 12th and F St. NW (Metro Center)
 Late Night (12am-5am)

I have lived in this beautiful, vibrant city for nearly 6 years now, and almost every single day, I find a new reason to be thankful for how exciting, convenient, and adventurous it still is to me. Today was one of those rare but necessary days which reminded me that I don’t live in such a cozy, happy bubble.

After work this evening, I attended a leadership training near the Archives (7th and D-ish) until about 8:30pm, at which point there was still plenty of light out that I felt comfortable walking the 20-ish blocks back home. My phone’s battery life was at about 25%, so I kept it in my bag to enjoy the natural sounds of the city around me. It wasn’t until about 8th and F that I noticed him, aimlessly walking about 20 feet behind me, innocently eating something out of a bowl. I paid him no mind and continued walking at a normal pace.

What about me made me a target tonight? Was it because I’m a woman? Because I’m brown? Because I was wearing a pencil skirt?

As I stood at the corner of 10th and F, waiting for the walk signal, he stood directly behind me. I could hear him breathing. Rather than wait 42 seconds, I changed directions and walked up the street to the Forever 21, meanwhile pulling out my phone and calling my dad (best friend forever). I stayed on the phone with my dad for about 15 minutes as I walked around the store, upstairs then downstairs (buying nothing – shocking!), eventually feeling comfortable enough to leave (and because the store was closing), but through a different entrance than the one I had walked in through. I went outside, the sun had almost set, I was exhausted and drained from a long day, so I tried to find a cab – but of course there were none were in sight.

As I turned the corner, I heard him. “Hey girl.” (This was NO Ryan Gosling, for the record.) I froze. He was standing about 20 feet in front of me. “Hey girl, I’m talkin to you. What did you buy in there?” he said as he moved closer. I immediately turned around and took off, pulling my phone out again and calling a friend (I love you Roma!). As I calmly power-walked my way along, looking for people – any people, his calling became increasingly inappropriate, going off about my body, my walk, even my scent. He followed me. On the phone, Roma guided me towards the nearest Metro station (Metro Center) as my nerves had completely taken over my sense of direction. I eventually made it the two blocks over to the Metro (thank you God for giving me walk signals), and seeing a crowded escalator, I hurried down the stairs instead. He was still calling after me.

Over my shoulder, I watched as an older, suited gentleman intervened. He stood at the top of the stairs and held his newspaper in front of him, firmly blocking my pursuer from following me down the stairs. “Hey. Back off,” was all he needed to say. I didn’t hear the rest of the exchange as I bolted for my platform, hoping to get lost in the tiny sea of people. Seven minutes until my train. I crouched down, trying to catch my breath and praying that the man didn’t have enough change to make it through the turnstiles. My phone was down to 8% battery. I felt anger, I felt frustration, I was upset that I couldn’t just walk home like a normal person in what I considered to be MY city. I wanted to kick something – actually, someone. Was it because I’m a woman? Because I’m brown? Because I’m short? Because I was wearing a pencil skirt? What about me made me a target tonight? Forget about me, though, and why do the terrible men that act in such a way have to exist!?

Lost in my thoughts, I barely noticed the gentleman approach me, standing a few feet away – a safe distance, in case I decided to breathe fire. He was probably mid- to late-30’s. “Are you okay?” he said. I looked up at his concerned eyes and nodded, feeling tears start to form. “I’m sorry you had to go through that. That guy’s a f***ing idiot.” I let out a laugh as he smiled and started to walk away. “Sir,” I called out to him. He turned, eyebrows raised. “Thank you.” He nodded. “Of course,” he said offhandedly, as if what he did so heroically (in my eyes, at least) was as routine as tying his shoe.

And just like that, my outlook changed. Suddenly, I felt grateful – grateful that I didn’t have my headphones in and that I was alert and aware enough to realize my surroundings. Grateful that I could find an exit strategy and get out of an unsafe situation. And most of all, grateful that there are strong, confident men out there who will stand up against what is wrong. These types of incidents may not happen to you, but they do happen every day to someone, somewhere.

To the beautiful, strong, confident women of the world – always be aware of your environment and never get too comfortable. You really never know when something might happen that causes you to react faster than you can think. As a memorable professor would say – “constant vigilance!” And to the gentlemen of the world, please don’t attack and harass women; protect them. Every female you encounter is someone’s mother, sister, daughter, aunt, niece, cousin – and she could be yours, so please treat her as such. And don’t be douchelords. Thank you.

Submitted 7/17/14 by “HKS.”

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If you experience or have experienced sexual harassment on the DC Metro system: Whether the event is happening at the moment or occurred months ago, we strongly encourage you to report to Metro Transit Police (MTP): www.wmata.com/harassment or 202-962-2121. Reporting helps identify suspects as well as commons trends in harassment. You can program MTP’s number into your phone so you can easily reach them when needed.

If you need assistance in coping with public sexual harassment or assault, please contact the DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC) 24/7 crisis hotline at 202-333-RAPE (202-333-7279).