Aziz Ansari Helped Me with a Street Harasser

Editor’s Note: Trigger warning for stalking.

I’ve always been a fan of Aziz Ansari. His comedy specials make me laugh, but I never expected to take one of his jokes and apply it to a real world scenario.

In Ansari’s one-man special Live at Madison Square Garden, he talks about the prevalence of sexual harassment and asks if women have ever been followed by a “creepy guy.” When a large portion of the female audience responded with an emphatic “yes!” he explained how guys are consistently surprised by this information.

Ansari goes on to suggest that if a woman ever approached him and said, “this guy is following me, can I sit with you?” his answer would be yes.

His special had me in stitches, but I didn’t give it much thought. Until I was followed.

It was a regular day. I write about retail, so I was out doing research. I was in front of a independent boutique, writing down some information when I felt someone’s gaze on me. I turned around, and a guy was hanging behind me — close enough for me to notice, but far away for me to second guess myself.

In my gut I felt as if he had zeroed in on me, but the distance between us made me think, maybe he’s just hanging out.

He walked by me. And, walked by me again. I was on my phone taking notes, but also tracking what was going on. I opened the door to the boutique. He was a few short steps behind me. I headed for the racks, trying to think through what to do. Should I notify the store manager? He had a right to be in the store, too. What would I say? “This guy is acting creepy, and I think he is following me.”

I was less concerned about me sounding overly cautious and weird than I was worried about being wrong. I was second guessing my gut. Haven’t I learned by now to always trust that gut feeling? He leaned against the wall toward the front of the store. He was next to a store fixture — a very smart place to hide. From the side I could only see his feet.

He lingered.

Two smart store employees saw him and asked him to leave. Whew. I was in the clear. I stayed in the store.

I tried to focus on why I was there: to do research. In reality, I was trying to calm down and have enough time pass for him to get away from the store. I left after twenty minutes.

But guess who was waiting for me?

I didn’t see him at first, but soon realized he was trailing half a block behind me. It was the middle of the day. What was the best thing to do? The best place to go? I saw a guy in his mid 20’s ahead of me on the other side of the street. I quickened my pace, crossed the road and ended up next to him, with Aziz’s advice swirling in my head.

Me: “Hey, there’s a guy following me, can I walk with you for a little bit?”

Guy: “Wait, what?”

Me: “There is a man who is following me. Can I walk with you?”

Guy: “Where is he?” (Turns around)

Me: “He’s behind us. Can we keep walking? I don’t want to stop.”

We walked in silence for a few minutes. We exchanged names. His was Mike. He was clearly confused about what was going on and why I was walking with him.

Mike: “How do you know that I’m a safe person?”

Me: “I don’t. I’m guessing.”

Mike: “I get it. This type of stuff happens to me all of the time.”

Me: “Wait, it does?”

Mike: “No.”

Me: “This stuff happens all of the time to women.”

Mike: “Really? I’ve never heard any of my girl friends talk about getting followed.”

Me: “It probably happens so often they don’t think to talk about it.”

We walked together for a few more blocks. I turned around and didn’t see the person who was following me. The danger passed, so I turned to Mike and said thank you.

And that’s the end of the story. I wish it was more definitive. I wish when I approached Mike he would have said without hesitation that of course I could walk with him and that he understood. But, that wasn’t the person who helped me. I’m thankful that he was there and that he was agreeable, but his statements were odd. I don’t think he was coming from a bad place. Rather, the idea of being followed was so far-fetched he truly didn’t understand my predicament.

Mike can walk freely down the street. He never hesitates before walking out of the door, wondering if he should take mace with him. He doesn’t worry if he should avoid eye contact with a group of men. His outfit choice won’t cause strangers to call him a whore. Because people don’t yell at him or tell him to smile or tail him when he is trying to work.

Next time, though, I will still use Ansari’s advice. I will go up to a stranger — someone I’ve made a split second decision on and declared “safe” — and ask if I can sit down or walk with them. I will also be that person for someone else in return. Because there will be a next time. There is always a next time.


Do you have a personal experience with gender-based public sexual harassment or assault? Share 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: 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).

“He followed me to the front door of my office in broad daylight.”

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Time:  Morning Rush Hour (5am-9:30am)

I was sleepily walking to work on 14th Street around 8:45 in the morning before having a cup of coffee, when this man pushing a grocery cart started yelling at me from across the street: “Ma’am! Ma’am! You’re beautiful!” I ignored him, and focused my attention on getting to the office. I wasn’t awake enough to reply in any sort of snarky way.

That’s when it escalated. My lack of response clearly infuriated him and he kept yelling “Ma’am! Miss!” and ran across traffic with his grocery cart to come up to me. I started walking faster to my office building. At this point, I was afraid, hoping to beat him before he got to the front door–and to put in my pin code and have it shut before he reached me. He ran all the way up to the front door of my office, but thankfully the door locked behind me as he attempted to open the door after me. He was still aggressively yelling “you’re so beautiful! why won’t you talk to me? Do you think you’re too good for me?”

Shaken, I walked into my office on the fourth floor and looked out to see if he was still there. He continued to pace back and forth in front of my office for the next twenty minutes.

Thankfully, I have not seen him since. But the fact that he knows where I worked, and had the audacity to follow me all the way to the front door is absolutely terrifying.

Submitted 10/1/16 by “CSG”

Do you have a personal experience with gender-based public sexual harassment or assault? Share 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: 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).

“He shouted ‘Are you just going to ignore me?'”

Location: 7th Street and S St NW
Time:  Daytime (9:30am-3:30pm)

I noticed a cab driver shouting and honking at me when I was passing Shaw Library on 7th Street NW. I walked on 7th St toward Uprising Muffins on S Street, and he continued to sexually harass me, but I was heading in the opposite direction, so I thought I would be able to get away from him without responding. He turned his car around, followed me on 7th St NW, and stopped the car on 7th St and S. He then shouted “Are you just going to ignore me?” and repeatedly told me to get in the car and asked if I needed a ride. I repeatedly told him that I did not want or need a ride and asked, “Was that seriously your plan in following me here?” Then he said: “That’s my job.” I explained to him that his job is to respond to requests for rides, not to follow and harass women on the street in an attempt to force rides upon us. I reported the incident to the DC Department of For-Hire Vehicles and the DC Office of Human Rights. Perhaps further training will help DC cab drivers better understand their job responsibilities and stop engaging in gender-based harassment.

Submitted 7/19/16 by “JR”

Do you have a personal experience with gender-based public sexual harassment or assault? Share 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: 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).

Our 2016 Strategic Plan: Serving the Needs of Our City’s Most Vulnerable

We just released our strategic plan!

The plan was heavily influenced by DC’s first roundtable on street harassment in December 2015 where 30 people testified about their experiences as targets and bystanders of public sexual harassment and assault. We heard women of color sharing their stories of harassment that quickly escalated to assault and transwomen sharing their stories of physical and sexual violence on the street and at shelters meant to serve them.

We recognized that, while we’ve worked hard over the years to raise awareness that layers of oppression affect the ways that different people experience street harassment, our programs need to be better tailored to address the needs of those who are most vulnerable.

We have to step up our efforts to make public spaces safe for people who are homeless and face gender-based harassment in the places that they sleep—public transit, sidewalks, and shelters. We need to focus our efforts on serving people of color who experience the most severe forms of harassment and most often see it escalate to assault.

We need to find community-based solutions to address the problem for people who have been harassed and assaulted by police officers and feel that they have nowhere to turn for support or justice. We have to build safe public spaces for everyone.

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Here are our strategic goals for 2016 (first in nonprofit mumbo jumbo and then translated by yours truly):

1. Ensure organizational stability through financial growth.
Translation: We need money. It allows us to advocate for community-based solutions to stop harassment while we build programs to serve folks who are unsafe in public spaces. Please donate so we can achieve the following:

2. Develop a comprehensive approach to addressing public sexual harassment and assault, taking into account sexism, racism, classism, cissexism, heterosexism, ableism, housing status, and other layers of oppression.
Translation: We need intersectional programming. We recognize that street harassment is more severe for people who face additional layers of oppression, and we’ve identified transwomen—and particularly transwomen of color—as the population at greatest risk of experiencing violence in public spaces. In our program plans, we’re prioritizing their needs.

3. Increase impact through improved data collection and program evaluation.
Translation: We need to make a difference. And we need to back it up with numbers. One of our first projects this year is to work with city leaders to collect citywide data on harassment, determine our baseline, and then measure our impact over time. First, we want to see greater awareness and increased reporting of sexual violence—a sign that we’ve brought about cultural change by demonstrating to harassers and their targets that this behavior is unacceptable. In the long term, we want to reduce harassment citywide and make DC safer.

4. Foster a respectful, inclusive, and collaborative environment for staff and volunteers.
Translation: We need to take care of our people. Our work is powered by the passion, dedication, and hard work of an incredible group of diverse volunteers. If we want to sustain our work and live up to our feminist values, it’s important for us to put structures in place to ensure the health and happiness of our mostly volunteer staff.

Read our full strategic plan here.

Sitting In for Safe Spaces

We invite you to join us for Women Drinking Coffee: Sitting In For Safe Spaces on February 6 for women, LGBTQGNC folks, and allies to meet to talk about ways that we can make public spaces safe for everyone.

The sit-in was planned after we read this article about an event happening at the Dupont Starbucks and realized it had been too long since feminists had gathered at this location to enjoy delicious beverages like the white chocolate mocha. While the event cited in the article may have been canceled, our sit-in for safe spaces will prevail.

“We wanted to direct attention away from anything else happening in this space at this time and toward issues of women’s safety,” said CASS’s Interim Executive Director, Jessica Raven. “We have communicated with the management at the Dupont Circle Starbucks about helping us create a welcoming and safe environment for women, LGBTQ, and gender nonconforming people. We invite you to stand—or sit—with us in solidarity for safe spaces.”

So far, over 150 members of the DC community have RSVPed to meet for an informal conversation about issues like street harassment and safety in public spaces. The goal is to work together to share ideas for promoting a safer city for women, LGBTQ, and gender nonconforming individuals. (Plus, this Starbucks location has agreed to play a women’s empowerment playlist created by our supporters—as long as they can figure out how to access their Spotify account!)

When: Saturday, February 6 from 7:30-9:00pm
Where: Starbucks, 1501 Connecticut Ave NW
RSVP on the Facebook event or email jessica@collectiveactiondc.org

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