Updated: Jun 3, 2021
By Anonymous | Sri Lanka
I experienced my first instance of street harassment when I was three years old. My mind was too innocent to understand why he was stroking himself between his legs. The second one happened at the age of eleven. This time he touched me, he groped my butt. At first, I thought it was a mistake. When I later realized what was happening I felt ‘fucktard’ was too bad a word to call him. After that it just seemed to happen again and again.
Once it was on the bus. I had just got on and my sister paid the conductor. Suddenly, there was a hand on my barely formed breast, pressing into my chest. It happened in broad daylight, in the middle of the uncrowded bus and in plain sight of everyone. For a long time I told myself that it had been a mistake. But I hated buses for years afterwards and am still wary of using them.
Another time, a man followed me. At first I thought he was going in the same direction as I was, and that he was being friendly. I even smiled at him. Then he asked for my phone number – luckily I wasn’t naïve enough to do it. When he kept following me I realized I was in real trouble. Then, I walked for half an hour past my house because I didn’t want him to find out my address.
I’m proud to say I dealt with him. Since I knew where he worked, the next time I went that way, I strode inside and asked another employee for the manager. I didn’t know what I was going to say to him, especially with my barely decent knowledge of Sinhala – but something had to be done. The manager wasn’t in, but the coward got the message – he didn’t do it again.
I ceased being so clueless after that. I was suspicious of everyone: with every two steps forward I looked over my shoulder for another pervert. Once more, another man followed me. We were passing a police checkpoint when I turned around, looked at him (truly a face only a mother could love) and asked if he would like me to call the cops. He ran away like if I had set a pack of starving dogs to chase him.
All this happened before I was fifteen years old. There are many more incidents I am not mentioning, and the jeers and leers are a daily occurrence. You may ask: why didn’t I tell my parents? Well, what could they have done? It would have just resulted in the loss of my freedom to go where I pleased. Why should I be the one to face the consequences of others’ wrongdoings?
Millions of women are harassed in Sri Lanka and around the world. This is my story, but many girls and women I know have had far worse experiences. Yet this problem is simply ignored. Instead of punishing the men who do it, the girls are told:
‘keep your eyes down when you walk’, ‘don’t show so much skin’, ‘be home before dark’, ‘keep quiet and walk away’, ‘ignore them,’ ‘men will be men’.
Instead of treating this as a problem that girls and women need to deal with, this is a situation men must be held accountable for, take responsibility for, face punishment for and find a solution for.
To be honest, however, it will be years or even decades before enough people realize the problem to make a difference. So we must deal with it using a two-fold approach and as with almost any issue the first step to resolution is education.
Young girls must be educated on the dangers of street harassment. Instead of being told to wear looser clothes, or to cover behind long skirts and scarves, they should be alerted against the hungry wolves prowling through the urban jungle and waiting to pounce on them. Girls should be taught to fight like the warriors they are for facing this everyday. They should be taught emergency manoeuvres, protocols for help, and defence mechanisms. It is a heavy burden for a young girl but not heavier than the imprint street harassment leaves behind.
I felt unwanted, filthy, shameful and worthless. Even as I write I feel dirty and ashamed although I did nothing wrong : I was the victim. People (or men) may think that ‘appreciative’ looks boost women’s ego. But, are only scumbags looking at me? Am I truly so low?
I’m forever wary about what will happen the next time I leave home. Many think, what’s the harm in looking at people? Call me a prude but even those looks give me shivers because that’s how it starts and quickly they get bolder. I’m afraid to smile at any man in the street – often there was something more sinister behind what I thought was a friendly smile to a passer-by.
Men must learn that women are not objects for their viewing or pleasure. Education starts from their formative years. The first step is to dismantle the idea bred in young boys that girls only do ‘girly’ things like having tea parties and being dainty, while boys need to be big and strong. Next step is to teach men that all human beings are equal and thereby deserve respect, which gradually evolves into an understanding that sexualising people without their consent is wrong. This would be the beginning of the end of violence against women, and as part of this fight, this article is MY first step – sharing my story. What will your first step be?
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