As a woman in a large city sexual harassment can be a fact of life. Whether it’s getting whistled at on the subway or being followed off of a bus, many learn to shrug off threatening advances.
In 2008 New York City’s MTA launched an ad campaign that included advertisements that began, “Sexual Harassment is a Crime in the subway, too.”
This is shocking in itself — do people think that laws don’t apply underground? Of course being sexually harassed is always a crime; no matter where it takes place. This advertisement seems to indicate that sexual harassment happens on the subway because people think it’s okay, rather than because it is an easy place for sexual predators to get away with disgusting behavior.
D**ckFlash.com is a forum for flashers where they can discuss the best way to expose themselves to innocent victims. With instructive tips such as time of the day to carry out the habit, as well as especially easy locations to make a getaway (subways and other forms of public transportation are constantly mentioned), the website essentially discusses the best ways to flash and not get caught.
The fact that such a website exists is awful enough, but what is even more horrifying is the people they suggest to target. Jezebel.com reports that one user wrote of flashing ground-rules: “No white women over the age of 25 unless you have a wicked getaway plan. Flash Asian women or black women, Asian’s are too embarrassed to call the cops and black women think it’s funny.”
Are ethnic women considered especially helpless when it comes to being sexually harassed? The fact that a sexual predator recognized that white women, as opposed to other races, are ‘out of bounds’ because of their propensity for action in the face of harassment is disturbing. The question remains — what would make women of color less likely to report abuse?
There are a number of possible reasons why predators might find it easier to prey upon ethnic women. Perhaps more women of color lack a strong sense of ownership of their bodies, or of the public space they operate in. Or maybe African-American women are less likely to report abuse because calling the police might seem more pointless them than to their Caucasian counterparts. Sometimes, when one feels helpless, the only course of action is to laugh it off.
A study conducted by the Manhattan Borough President’s Office found that 63 percent of women who participated in their study had been sexually harassed, and that 10 percent had been sexually assaulted while on the subway or at a subway station.
Stop Street Harassment reports that in their study 99 percent of women said they had been harassed on the street: around 70 percent had been followed, 54 percent had been touched or grabbed, and 30 percent had been targets of public masturbation. Statistics on whether black women were more likely to be harassed were surprisingly absent.
Sexual harassment on public transportation seems a subject many do not broach. A simple Google search of ‘stop sexual harassment’ leads to thousands of websites indicating ways to stop inappropriate behavior at work, where few have suggestions about ways to stop similar transgressions on public transportation.
Even scarcer is information on African-American victims as well as other racial minorities. It seems that this is discussed, if discussed at all, as a problem that affects all races equally. This is a subject that deserves attention and action. If ethnic women are indeed especially targeted, what can be done to fix the problem?
The MTA advertisement ends “A crowded train is no excuse for an improper touch. Don’t stand for it or feel ashamed, or be afraid to speak up. Report it to an MTA employee or police officer.” This can be a valuable way to fight abuse, but sadly some women find it ineffective — whether it’s that the police or public officials do not take their complaints seriously, or that they do not react in time, it is often difficult to rely on a third party to care about something many consider a ‘common’ occurrence.
“Hollaback! is a movement dedicated to ending street harassment using mobile technology,” reads the website. The site’s goal is to “breaks the silence that has perpetuated sexual violence internationally, assert[ing] that any and all gender-based violence is unacceptable, and creates a world where we have an option — and, more importantly — a response.”
This is an even more viable way to work to end abuse because it allows the person who has been harassed to personally respond to what has happened, although sometimes women are not always fortunate enough to snap a picture of the sexual predator and have their face go viral.
The fact remains that street and public transportation harassment is common and difficult to combat. Yet if attention given to the subject is lacking, and facts about whether black women or any other racial group are more likely to be targeted is relatively unknown, how can we effectively fight the problem?