Gloria Steinem once wrote, “Self-esteem isn’t everything—it’s just that there’s nothing without it.”
The first time I read that quote, it immediately resonated with my experience with street harassment. In particular, it recalls an experience I had when my career was first starting out. I wasn’t great at dressing professionally—it just didn’t come naturally to me. So when my boss told me we were hosting a big event with important stakeholders from all over the country, I went out and bought a classy sheath dress that made me feel like a true office boss.
On the day of the event, feeling confident and professional in my dress, I walked the stakeholders to a working dinner. As we moved up the sidewalk discussing business, we were interrupted by two men loudly catcalling me, screaming, “THAT ASS IN THAT DRESS, THOUGH,” and “DAMN, GIRL!” I knew I couldn’t retaliate in front of the stakeholders, so I ignored them, and the stakeholders pretended not to notice. I felt myself shrinking, and my voice faltered.
The rest of the night, I could barely hold myself together.
I’m now several years into my career and an active advocate against street harassment. But to this day, when I’m getting ready for work events and my hand gravitates toward that sheath dress, I can’t bring myself to wear it.
Street harassment is frequently dismissed as a compliment or a lesser offense. In reality, street harassment is a public health crisis that affects the well-being and self-esteem of those who experience it, and, as is the case for me, the effect can be lasting. People who experience it cope by sacrificing their true selves to avoid harassment, by changing when and where they walk, the way they dress, and the way they exist. In both silence and defiance, they risk mental and sometimes physical harm, just by daring to occupy public spaces.
Through our My Streets, Too blog and via social media, we’ve given thousands of people a platform to share their stories and speak out against harassment. We’ve grown in numbers and in power, and now we’re calling on our leaders take real action to build a city free from sexual harassment and assault. We’re taking back the streets of DC, and we need your help to make it happen. You can help our voice be heard by DC leaders.
Here are some of the ways we’re making history through policy that address street harassment and assault head-on:
We’re working to form a task force on street harassment! The DC Street Harassment Task Force Establishment Act of 2016 introduced by Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1) would establish a task force dedicated to collecting data about street harassment and assault in the District and recommend policy solutions to reduce it. This was introduced after the first-ever D.C. Council roundtable on street harassment (check out some of the testimonies here). We’re forming a coalition with community partners and working to get this bill passed before the end of the year!
We’re growing our Safe Bars program! And we’ve already trained the staff at 16 local bars! The Safe Bars program is a revolutionary bystander intervention training that teaches staff in alcohol-serving establishments to recognize and respond to sexual aggression, and CASS is dedicated to pursuing policy that would raise the bar for DC nightlife to make safety a priority.
CASS is a largely volunteer-run organization, and our programs depend on your support. Donate now to support our policy and outreach efforts to help make DC a safer place to live.
Also, if you opt to support our work throughout the year as a monthly donor, we have special perks to thank you for your ongoing support. Learn more about the Collective Action Circle.