Today you’re getting a crash course in social psychology.
I work out 5-6 days a week. On 100% of those days I wear compression shorts or capri pants. Yes, they’re made of spandex. My house is a half mile from my gym, 3 blocks from the track, and a mile from the running trail. So, 5 or 6 days a week I make a 10-20 minute walk from hell. On 100% of the days, I get catcalled, whistled at, followed, barked at, and verbally sexually assaulted. If you’re thinking this is tied to my neighborhood, it’s not. Remember that it happened on the bike trail in Arlington too. The common denominator is simply the act of being female and outside.
This is a problem that over 90% of women report experiencing, so I normally ignore it, but this week I feel compelled to speak out.
On Monday I walked out of my house and before I had even reached the stop sign, a man walked out of his apartment and started following me.
Guy: “DAY-UM BITCH! Where you work out at???”
Me: Head down. Silence. Walking Faster
Guy: Oh, you don’t want me to know? You don’t want me to get in SHAPE like you? Yeah, I’d like to get in your shape. haha.
Me: Walking so fast I’m pretty sure I’m going to trip on the sidewalk
This guy followed me for HALF A MILE. He followed me all the way to the gym. I knew I’d be safe once I got to the gym because only members are allowed inside, but I couldn’t stop thinking that it’s really just a matter of time before this happens in the opposite direction and someone follows me HOME.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that street harassment is the most common form of sexual violence for American men and women. Studies show that 70-99% of women report being harassed. Long term effects include depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)- not to mention a reduced sense of safety that can limit mobility and victims’ social and civic engagement. Symptoms of PTSD can include nightmares, flashbacks, feeling unsafe, and high levels of stress.
What can I do?
Victims- You have every right to confront your harasser. Be firm, be quick, and keep moving. Say “STOP IT” or “THAT’S GROSS”, but be prepared to keep moving. Do not engage the harasser, and also know that it’s ok to say nothing at all if you feel that is in the best interest of your safety.
Research shows that writing about traumatic activity can help reduce anxiety and begin the healing process. I encourage you to write about your trauma. Write it here in the comments section, or in your private journal, or on your instagram for the world to see. It’s up to you.
Bystanders– There’s a social psychological phenomenon known as “the bystander effect”. The effect occurs in situations where one person is in need of help, and the amount of help they receive is inversely related to the amount of bystanders- basically- the more people are around, the less likely someone is to offer any help. There are a variety of social factors at play here, but a big one is the “diffusion of responsibility”- meaning that people believe someone else will help. It’s not their responsibility. Remember that the next time you’re in a crowded building and you smell smoke. The more crowded the room, the less likely anyone is to pull the fire alarm.
If you’re a bystander to street violence, speak up, take pictures with your phone, alert police, or ask the victim if she/he is ok.