A FRIEND FOUND herself in an elevator with four men when one asked if she thinks she could ‘take them all at once’. Stunned by the comment and terrified by the circumstances she found herself in,she did what many women might do in situations like that – she giggled nervously. Later, she ran the scenario over in her head, mad at herself for not castigating the lewd man for making her the subject of his rape joke.
Just a week prior to that incident, Mary Spears, 27, was shot dead in Detroit for denying a man’s advances. He had asked for her number at a nightclub, she declined to give it to him – stating she was engaged – and he shot her. In the weeks that followed, a video went viral of a woman wearing a secret camera while walking through New York for 10 hours. What it showed were the 100 instances of street harassment she endured on that single day. No surprise, then, that a survey conducted by US NGO Stop Street Harassment found that 65% of US women have experienced street harassment.
In June 2014,social worker,activist and writer Feminista Jones tweeted about her experience of intervening in an incident of street harassment in the Big Apple. She’d approached the situation and asked the woman,‘You OK, sis?’The phrase has become a hashtag campaign aimed at raising awareness and encouraging people to intervene when they witness street harassment. Like my friend in the elevator, women often fall silent in these instances – too scared that they may become another statistic.
Street harassment perpetuates the stereotype that women are prey for men to approach and, says Feminista,‘even if you don’t like it, you’re supposed to appear that you do’. Just last week, walking to my car after popping into the shops, I vocalised that I didn’t appreciate the sleazy ‘hey, sexy!’ that was shouted at me from across the street, and was met with a slew of profanity-laden insults. As if I was the one that had violated his space with my advances! It feels as if street harassment is seeing a steady increase in popularity all over Cape Town and I am struggling to feel safe in the city I’ve called home my entire life. Feminista’s #YouOkSis hashtag reminds the victims of all forms of harassment that someone sees them and acknowledges their discomfort and potential dangerous situation. Because, no, sis, I’m not OK – but it means the world that you noticed.
IDENTIFIED TRAFFICKING SURVIVORS WERETRAFFICKED FOR SEXUAL EXPLOITATION