Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Housing & Community Development
Joint Public Roundtable on Street Harassment in the District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., 20004
John A. Wilson Building, Room 500
Good Morning members of the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Housing & Community Development. My name is Krystal Leaphart. I am originally from Detroit, MI, and I moved to Washington, DC to attend Howard University. Thank you for the opportunity to speak at this roundtable.
I serve the community through organizing around Racial Justice and Diversity. One way I do that is through mentorship.
As a mentor, my job is to foster a relationship of comfort. Some of our girls looks to us as a big sisters. With that, our girls tell us all kinds of stories and ask for our advice. Typically we can tell the girls how we feel about the situation and what we have done in the past to fix similar situations in our own lives. One story, however, was extremely alarming and triggering for me.
The mentee, who I will refer to as Ashley, was 14 at the time. She told her mentor and I about a man old enough to be her granddad that tried to pursue her. She told us that she was extremely scared and her mom was ready to assault the man that was harassing her daughter. I remember scrambling to think of something to say to make her feel better about this situation. I drew a blank. Usually we have words of wisdom to share after something happens to our girls, but in these moments I’m only reminded of my first encounter with Street Harassment.
I was 12 years. I went into the gas station to get a snack for school the next day. I remember an older man following me through the gas station. He said things to me like “ I see something special and I don’t want to pass this up.” I don’t remember much else except being scared that he may touch me or try to physically harm me. The only thing I said to him as I checked out was “Please leave me alone, I am 12 years old”. I walked out to the car and hoped he did not follow me because I was scared my mom would attack this strange man and go to jail for it. I did not think it was important to tell anyone at the time.
I also thought back to freshman year. I was going to a skating rink with a group of my floormates and we walked past a group of young men. One of the men was interested in one of us from the group. As we kept walking the group of men began to verbally attack us for not stopping to talk to them.
Looking back, I am wondering how have these experiences affected me and the many of black women and girls that I see this happen to? For me, it is hard to trust men on the street, on public transportation and in bars. For younger girls, you feel like less of a child, you are forced to grow up faster and make tougher decisions about bring an adult into these situations.
Because of Street Harassment, others have tried to convince us our body are not ours. We are also told we should feel flattered that folks want to acquaint themselves with our bodies. This simply isn’t true. This is my body and we are not here for your gaze.
Moving to some solutions. I have the following ideas as a start to addressing this issue locally and internationally:
- We have to treat Street Harassment as a Public Safety Issue, because it is one. Mary Spears of Detroit, MI, was killed because she didn’t accept a man’s advances. She was with her fiancee and family while this happened.
- We also need to address hypermasculinity that perpetuates entitlement over our own.
- End Victim blame culture that puts the blame on women for their attire and not those that choose to become violent.
- Begin having these conversations with folks early. Youth that do not respect “No” can grow up to be adults that have the same problematic behavior.
Thank you for your time and I look forward to listening and learning more about Council Involvement on this issue.