Sexual Harassment: Is It a Big Deal?

By Jada Vanderpool

street harassment

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons

In New York City, it’s a given that if you’re a woman, you’ll encounter street harassment sometime in your life.

My routine when exiting the Jamaica Center train station is always the same. I turn my iPod volume up to its highest level and walk looking straight ahead to avoid eye contact and any possible opening for conversation.

Even with my headphones in and head straight, out the corner of my eye I can still see men reaching their hands out, mouthing with a dirty sly grin on their face.

Some even take it a step further and grab my arm to get my attention. As I pull away, their grin turns into a mug, and they snarl out whatever derogatory statements come to mind.

Certain areas are hotspots for street howling. Outside the train station of Jamaica Center, men line up on the block, some selling cigarettes, some selling Metro cards, and others just hanging out.

But regardless of whether they’re out to make money or on their free time, they’re all checking for someone, anyone who is the least bit appealing to them.

But it doesn’t just happen in New York City. It happens at any city, state, or even university.

Shaquintay Johnson, sophomore, at Morgan State University, feels violated just walking through the Student Center.

“You want to wear a hoodie around your waist, or the biggest pair of sweatpants so guys don’t look and call out ‘clappers’ or ‘oh she’s fat’ like you’re only a sexual object,” Johnson said.

“At one point I wanted to stop walking through the student center,” she continued. “I even got comments to the point where I wished I didn’t have the figure that I have, and I had to talk myself out of that.”

Street harassment isn’t in the dictionary, but it’s best described by sexual harassment activist groups as sexual harassment in a public setting. It is unwanted sexual advances through offensive remarks and acts.

Stop Street Harrassment, a nonprofit organization that fights to street harassment, conducted a national study in 2014 with 2,000 participants. They found that 65 percent of women have experienced some form of street harassment.

Some students believe women draw sexual remarks by their appearance or behavior.

“Women make it so that they’re accessible,” said sophomore Nigel Wainwright. “If you allow yourself to be accessible then you’re going to be accessible.”

“If you’re wearing a short skirt and crop top walking down the street you should know some men are going to look and make some type of remark,” said senior Ariel Hall.
“ But you can also receive a remark wearing a business suit at 11 a.m. like, ‘You look good today.’ It’s all about appearance and how you carry yourself.”

“I don’t think students feel empowered,” said Takkara Brunson, history professor and member of the Women’s Gender Studies Program at Morgan State University.

“I think women in particular are shamed by a broader society so they’ll say things like ‘respect yourself, don’t be at certain places at certain times, don’t wear certain clothing so that if something does happen, the blame isn’t placed on you,’ and so for that reason women have sort of remained more silent than addressing the issue.”

A range of emotions erupted among Morgan students after a Twitter page “MSU Confessions,” opened earlier this year.

The page allowed students to anonymously “confess” their feelings and intimate information about fellow colleagues. Many of the tweets were derogatory or lewd sexual remarks.

Students rallied on social media to petition to delete the Twitter page. A few days later, MSU police called for the page to be deleted.

But another page was formed.

Sophomore Josh Samba believes a bruised ego from rejection can lead to sexually assaulting slurs.

“Most men’s actions are guided by pride, and ego ties into pride very closely,” said Samba. “So, when a man’s ego is affected or even if he believes it to be assaulted, they react more than likely violent.”

However, he enjoyed reading the Twitter page.

“It was entertaining,” said Samba.  “I didn’t know most of the people and in my head it’s not as important as people give it the credit. “

Others viewed it as harassment. “I was affected by pages like that since my freshman year of high school,” says Johnson.

While some were bothered by the cyber sexual remarks, others view them and harassment as a whole as things to ignore.

“Nine times out of 10,  it’s a lie,” said senior Geniece Ward. “People are going to talk about you, that’s just life.”

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