Taking Action and Speaking Up: “Don’t be a Passive Bystander”

Location: Shaw-Howard Metro Stop, Washington, DC
Time:  Daytime (9:30am-3:30pm)

A group of three men were yelling after a woman in front of me. They were trying to get her attention by yelling, “black tank top, black tank top!” When she didn’t respond, they yelled, “What, are you too cute to turn around?” One of their friends was ahead of her, so they yelled at him to stop her. He got really close to her and followed her for half a block. When she got to her bus stop (right in front of Shaw-Howard metro stop on 8th ST NW and R), I went up to her and asked if she knew them. She said no, but hadn’t heard that they had been calling after her because she had been on the phone. I told her what had happened.

I walked a block away so my dog could go to the bathroom in some grass, and looked back towards the bus stop. One of the guys had gone back and continued to harass her. She looked over to me, so I walked back over. When I got closer I could hear that she was telling him to stop and he said, “I have the right to talk to you if I want!” I walked to the bus stop and said “hi” to her, positioning myself in between her and the guy harassing her. That small gesture seemed to be enough to diffuse the situation. He asked me if I was going to take my dog on the bus. I said no. He walked away, and the bus came.

After spending a couple years in Nicaragua, where street harassment is rampant, I expected to experience less street harassment in DC, but this was the most aggressive street harassment I have ever seen. I was scared it was going to escalate, especially when they were essentially trapping her on the street with their friend who was told to “stop her.” In this situation I felt comfortable enough to intervene the way I did because I was with my dog, and there were other people around. I did not feel comfortable enough to turn around and say something when it all started because I felt vulnerable- I was also trapped in between the three guys and their one friend who was ahead of us.

My takeaway from this is to be an active bystander. There are different ways to do it, but it’s important to help diffuse the situation as it’s happening to make sure it doesn’t escalate even further. While I was in the situation I thought back to this blog post Collective Action had put out a while back that I had read: http://www.collectiveactiondc.org/2012/11/11/7-steps-you-can-take-to-address-street-harassment/.

Tell your friends that if they see street harassment happening, do something! Don’t be a passive bystander!

Submitted 5/4/15 by “Lauren S.”

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).