Star Silva, Resident, Ward 1 // ANC 1B09
Joint Public Roundtable on Street Harassment in the District of Columbia
Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Housing & Community Development
1350 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, D.C., 20004
John A. Wilson Building, Room 500
December 3, 2015 at 10:00 AM
I want to thank the Council for holding this hearing, as well as WMATA, the DC Office of Human Rights, MPD, and the other agencies for being present.
Public sexual harassment is a public safety issue and a civil rights issue. It’s not just an innocuously named activity like “cat calling.” Public sexual harassment in DC warrants your attention and demands policy solutions.
The first time I was sexually harassed I was 12 years old while I was at the grocery store with my mother. Since then I’ve lived in four cities in three countries, and nowhere have I been sexually harassed as often as I am in DC. I’ve been harassed while biking, walking, and taking public transportation, by cab drivers, Uber drivers, Lyft drivers, and Metrobus drivers. In DC, one man on a bicycle has grabbed my buttocks, and numerous times people have blocked my path, yelled obscenities at me, stalked me in their car, and many more incidents — more times than I can count — regularly and unrelentingly.
It’s not enough to ignore it. Sexual harassment, like other forms of sexual violence ranging from unwanted sexual comments, to stalking, to rape, isn’t about sex. It’s about dominance. It’s often the first flag to potential violence. It’s not enough to ignore it, because it often quickly escalates from annoying, to creepy, to terrifying.
And it’s not enough for victims of public sexual harassment to simply respond. In 2008, a man beat up my male friend when I objected to his obscenities. Earlier this year, the security manager of Tropicalia, a popular venue on U Street and an ABRA establishment, sent me to the hospital when he attacked me for objecting to unwanted touching. He said, “I can touch you however I want,” while he put me in a bear hug and crushed my ribs.
Public sexual harassment disproportionately affects women and gender nonconforming people. When these groups are threatened in public spaces, this means they don’t participate in public life. And this prevents them from achieving full equality in our society.
I want to live in a city that works not only to keep people safe, but also to help them participate and thrive.
Specific DC policies can help change social attitudes, deter this problematic behavior, and provide people with recourse.
WMATA and MetroBus: I commend you on working with CASS to track incidents and on training Metro employees. Now, create PSAs that target offenders, and help stop harassment before it happens.
- Department of Transportation: Work with WABA and other groups to expand training on dealing with harassment, and make sure that new urban developments take public safety into account.
- MPD: Take down a report. Every single time. Sexual crimes from harassment to rape are vastly under-reported to begin with. When people do try to report it, they often experience pushback instead of having their incident handled and recorded. And their incident is left off the record. This happened to me earlier this year.
- DC Public Schools: Sexual harassment affects adolescent educational, emotional, and physical development. Young girls are socialized to think that this behavior is normal and expected, and young boys that this is no big deal. DCPS can implement programs talking about harassment in and outside of school, to promote gender equity at an early age. This includes programs that include respect and inclusion for LGBTQ youth.
- Office of Human Rights: Your mission is “to eradicate discrimination, increase equal opportunity and protect human rights.” Establish programs that link public sexual violence to human rights violations. Public sexual harassment is often racialized, with Latinas having some of the highest rates, according to a 2014 Stop Street Harassment study. “Persons of color, lower-income people, and persons who identify as lesbian, gay bisexual, or transgender were disproportionately affected by street harassment overall,” the same study cites.
- Commission on the Arts and Humanities: Public art enriches the perception of a city, and can be a tool for social change. Establish a grant for local artists to create murals around this issue.
DC is consistently rated as the most walkable city in the U.S. and touted by our leaders as a “livable community.” Let’s make this more than just a good campaign slogan and take robust steps to make this a reality for all people.