Black women and girls speak out against street harassment following attack in Southwest DC

Tonight women from Ward 8 will organize Reclaiming Our Bodies, a food table and speakout to tell their community that women and girls deserve to feel safe from harassment in public spaces. Organized in response to an incident where a 16-year-old girl was harassed, followed, and threatened at a monthly food table in Ward 8, the speakout will give community members an opportunity to share their personal experiences with harassment and demonstrate support for non-criminal, community-based solutions to street harassment on a citywide level.

“Society will try to make women and girls believe that it is normal to be harassed in the street by men. We are told to cover up, watch where we go, watch what we do, and not be comfortable in our own skin. On the 23rd, we say NO to this culture,” said Schyla Pondexter-Moore, organizer of the speakout and mother of the attacked teen. “We have a right to wear what we want! We shouldn’t be telling women and girls to not get raped and harassed. We need to tell men not to rape and harass.”

According to a 2014 study by Stop Street Harassment, 65% of women will experience street harassment, a problem that disproportionately impacts women of color and LGBTQGNC people. Another study by the Black Women’s Blueprint shows that 60% of Black girls will be sexually abused by the time they turn 18, and a 2017 CDC report showed that Black women are twice as likely to be murdered than women of any other racial identity.

In D.C., pending legislation entitled the Street Harassment Prevention Act seeks to address gendered violence using a three-pronged approach, including citywide data collection, an awareness campaign offering support and resources to those targeted, and training for government employees on how to prevent and interrupt incidents of harassment. The bill will help to prevent incidents of violence against women with a non-punitive, non-criminal approach.

Press is invited to attend the speakout, which will take place at 3900 South Capitol Street Southwest on Wednesday, August 23rd from 5 to 9 PM.

Hate and Violence Will Not Be Tolerated in Our Community. 

Here at CASS, we’re all still reeling from the blatant racist events led by white supremacists last weekend in Charlottesville. We took to the streets last night in DC to show that hate and violence will not be tolerated.

 

We *all* deserve to feel safe — white supremacy and terrorism have no place here, Charlottesville, or anywhere. But just yesterday in our own DC community, a man with a swastika tattoo harassed people at the Ramsey pool in Eastern Market and called a young Black lifeguard the n-word.

With the significant increase in hate violence in the District since Trump’s election — including white supremacist posters in Bloomingdale, it’s critical that we speak out against hate, but also stay strong and take care of ourselves.

Don’t forget to:

  1. Hydrate.
  2. Surround yourself with supportive people and loved ones.
  3. Unplug. It’s important to stay vigilant with the news, but it’s also important to step away from the AP alerts sometimes.
  4. Sleep.
  5. Breathe.

Together, we believe we can create a community that is safe for *everyone.*

We Spoke Out: Now, Let’s Keep Pushing to #PassSHPA!

We had a powerful day of testimonies at the DC City Council meeting on July 12th in support of the Street Harassment Prevention act (SHPA).  

“When I was 21, two men drugged me at a bar and raped me. If my bartender had noticed the signs of sexual aggression, or the signs of date rape drugs, my life could have been different. If another patron had known how to recognize the signs of two men preparing to sexually assault a 21-year- old man, perhaps I would know what justice looks like. At the hospital, I reported it to the police. After completing a rape kit, the first words out of my detective’s mouth were, “We have these gay boys that go home with each other every night, wake up with their wallets missing, and expect us to do something about it.” Discrimination, be it overt or subtle, leads individuals to mistrust the very systems intended to provide safety after a crisis. Leaving us wondering, where do we go for help? … We can ensure other people don’t suffer the same fate. Because this isn’t just my story. It’s the story of thousands — thousands of people face dangerous street harassment in our city.” – Adam Swanson

“The [Street Harassment Prevention Act] cannot come at more important moment. I’m more scared than I used to be. I am concerned that we are living in times with increasing violence against women and religious and ethnic minorities. The horrible event in Portland where fellow passengers were killed for standing up to a man who was harassing two African American women, one in a hijab, shows the importance that law enforcement and the wider public be trained to intervene when street harassment occurs, especially in ways that de-escalate a situation.” – Jennifer Bianca Browning

We’re still collecting all of the testimonies, but a few of them are up here.

The bill will broaden the definition of street harassment to include our most marginalized communities. And the SHPA will create mechanisms of data collection and training requirements to make sure that everyone’s experience of street harassment is recognized and addressed.

Here’s How You Can Help Pass SHPA:

1) Call your councilmember and tell them why you support the bill. Check your Ward. If you or your friends live in Wards 3 or 7, call or Tweet at your councilmembers and tell them to #PassSHPA. At-large members represent all of DC, so everyone should call and Tweet at Councilmember Bonds.

Here’s a sample phone script: Hi, my name is _______ and I’m a DC resident. I’m calling to ask Councilmember [Your Councilmember or At-Large Councilmember] to pass the Street Harassment Prevention Act. In a time of rising hate and harassment that disproportionately affects women and LGBTQ people of color, we need community-based, non-criminal solutions like education, awareness, and training to make DC safer for everyone. Thank you.

Here’s a sample Tweet: Harassment is on the rise in the District. As a concerned resident, I’m asking you to take action – #PassSHPA! [Twitter handle of your Councilmember or At-Large Councilmember]

And here is the contact information you can plug in:

  • Ward 3: Contact Councilmember Mary Cheh at (202) 724-8062 or on Twitter at @MaryCheh
  • Ward 7: Councilmember Vincent Gray at (202) 724-8068 or on Twitter at @VinceGrayWard7
  • At-Large: Councilmember Anita Bonds at (202) 724-8064 or on Twitter at @AnitaBondsDC

2) Tweet your general support.

3) Speak out against street harassment on August 23rd.

Men: You can do better. We want to help.

Last Monday, a 16-year-old Black girl from Ward 8 confronted her harassers — men who serve food in her community — and told them clearly, calmly, and repeatedly: “No matter what I’m wearing, I deserve to walk down the street without being harassed.” Their response? They contorted their faces in disbelief of the radical idea that women and girls deserve to feel safe in public spaces.

Blaming women for the harassment they experience while navigating public spaces is unacceptable. Yet, men continue to blame women — or their attitudes or their profession or their clothes — for their actions. We need to rethink this common refrain. We need to rethink masculinity.

Are you or someone you know ready to commit to working to construct a new understanding of masculinity? If so, apply by August 23rd to join the second cohort of Rethink Masculinity, which runs from mid-September to early November!

ReThink Masculinity, a partnership between Collective Action for SafeSpaces, ReThink, and DC Rape Crisis Center, is a consciousness building group, for and by men, to construct healthier masculinities.

The program is a two-month long consciousness building group focused on equipping men with the skills and community to rethink how they express their identity. Rethink Masculinity is committed to being intersectional, to centering queer and trans people, and to building a culture of accountability and trust. Applications are open to all men, regardless of assigned gender. People of color, queer and/or trans men, and DC natives are encouraged to apply.

Questions? Want to learn more? Join us for an informational happy hour next Monday at Nellies or email daniel@collectiveactiondc.org or stephen@collectiveactiondc.org.

Want to take action in solidarity with the girls harassed in Ward 8? Come out on August 23rd from 5-9pm for “Reclaiming My Body,” a speakout and food table where people can still get the food they need and feel safe.

mama used to say

Editor’s note: This is part of a series from our Rethink Masculinity program with ReThink and DC Rape Crisis Center. The author stylistically decided to not use capitalization.

The popular rhetoric in 1996 was “the black male is an endangered species.” death, destruction, and detention awaited each black male as he navigated the job market, everyday life, and even grade school — the latter sounds hyperbolic until you consider the school-to-prison pipeline (sidenote: i agree with bell hooks that the endangered species language is rooted in dehumanizing black males as animal-like or beasts). when my parents were going through their divorce, my mother stressed a particular statement to my brother and me — repeated as a refrain in the endangered species sing-along. it wasn’t flowery. she made her words plain: “break the cycle.” at the ripe age of 11, i thought i had a solid grasp of what she was saying. i took her words as a stern warning: as long as i made honor roll here and there, did my chores consistently, and stayed out of trouble, i was breaking the cycle.

unfortunately, my mother didn’t specify what breaking the cycle meant and i assumed too much. i assumed her sons surviving their teen years without criminal charges and unplanned pregnancies would be breaking the cycle. twenty years later, my mother’s words have revisited me and have knocked me down.

my mother was referring to my father and the pattern of behavior displayed by the men of that lineage. my father looks exceptional on paper: 20-year Army retiree, college-educated, art dealer. however, his life hasn’t been one of interpersonal triumph. his father and grandfather were abusive and womanizing. he became an abuser and womanizer. and with this being the norm, my father repeated what he witnessed as a child and inflicted this same harm on others. he had four sons: the oldest was killed and the remaining three speak to him on average every 6-7 years if lucky. i see now that my dad’s notions of masculinity kept him emotionally inept and prevented him from breaking the cycle of violent and harmful behavior.

reflecting years later, this is some kind of wonderful and terrible. wonderful, for i’m more introspective, taking account of my actions, examining my role models, and analyzing what’s been considered “normal” for guys like me but “trash” for people dealing with guys like me. terrible, for i’m left with this sunken feeling that i waited a long time and all of these activities are long overdue.

in these last few months, “breaking the cycle” has become an ongoing and intentional pursuit. for me, breaking the cycle includes several things:

  • actively unpacking the ways i practice toxic masculinity through waging violence on others, hiding behind my exterior, being a womanizer, and a laundry list of other offenses.
  • learning and practicing vulnerability with the people i say i love and care about.
  • examining how i define love, care, and respect, essentially going beyond hallmark cards.
  • doing the heavy lifting of my own emotional labor and not solely relying on others (often women and/or queer folks) to be further burdened with MY reluctance to address MY issues.
  • addressing my past in therapy and investing time and energy into my mental health care.
  • redefining what it means to be a strong, black man within a society rooted in white supremacist patriarchy.
  • holding space for others; availing myself for the discomfort that may arise when i am present for others.
  • checking my privilege and being critical of how i am oppressing others because yes, i can oppress others.

i appreciate collective action for safe spaces, rethink, and the dc rape crisis center for investing in the rethink masculinity course. i’m thankful for the facilitators: daniel, sam, tahir, ben, and amanda for bringing themselves to this 8-week workshop. i was challenged each week and left yearning for more but always equipped with new tools to navigate the next week with healthier alternatives. the guys in the workshop who were my classmates were awesome, open, affirming, and deliberate. they showed me that i wasn’t the only male with these similar struggles. i’m determined to keep this momentum going. and i plan to break the cycle alongside with others.

my mother has shouldered most of the emotional labor in raising me. her foresight saved me from much calamity and it’s with this acknowledgement, i want to be fully present for her. finally, i’m heeding her 20-year-old advice. i don’t want another generation with my dna to struggle in the same manner with their masculinity. i want healthy masculinity to be the norm. i want to set the standard. i want to break the cycle.

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