Testimony by Jennifer Bianca Browning
Hearing on the Street Harassment Prevention Act
Committee on the Judiciary
John A. Wilson Building, Room 412
1350 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, D.C., 20004
Wednesday, July 12, 2017 at 9:00 AM

I urge the DC City Council to pass the Street Harassment Prevention Act. I will feel safer if the act is passed and its measures implemented. As a resident of the District of Columbia, I have, like most of the women I know in DC, experienced street harassment here. I think growing up in DC, I always thought there was nothing I could do about it. I used to dread comments on my appearance as I walked home from school as a thirteen year old girl. I learned, as many young women learn, to make myself as invisible as possible in the public space. It was for my safety, to avoid uncomfortable comments and interactions.

I still carry this with me today as an adult, but I no longer wish to be invisible. I no longer believe that the problem has to continue unacknowledged and unaddressed. The Street Harassment Prevention Act is an important first step toward officially acknowledging the problem in the District and taking action to understand and address it in a non-criminal way.

The 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.

Only last week, I experienced street harassment on my way to the grocery store. I observed an angry man yelling into the door of a CVS and verbally threatening staff. He must have noticed me because as I crossed the street and then turned toward the supermarket, he followed on his bike, shouting at me and insulting me by calling me a “fatass.” I know that as a woman, the safest thing I can do is to move away from the situation and not address the person. So I kept walking, not acknowledging my harasser.

However, this is an unsatisfying response for all involved. Let me be clear though. I would have wanted a non-criminal response, not an arrest. I think he likely needed access to mental health services.

I do wish that I walk in the city and know I could count on officials who were trained in de-escalation to come to my aid. I also wish I were better trained myself and that other residents were educated about street harassment. I thus am asking the Council to vote for the Street Harassment Prevention Act.