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There is nothing ‘casual’ about unwanted groping.
For the past year, I have been living in the extraordinary city of Istanbul, the city that sprawls across two continents and is home to one of the most beautiful skylines in the world.As a 24 year old western female, I am, however, unfortunately pre disposed to experience another more seedy side to the city and its culture.
Sexual harassment is endemic in Istanbul. The vast majority of my female expat friends here have complained about being inappropriately touched, not to mention enduring endless predatory stares and persistent sexual invitations. I have lost track of the angry rants we’ve had over tea and baklava, about this so-called ‘casual groping’.The scariest thing is that, due to the scale of the situation, both men and women have come to accept this behaviour as commonplace.
The situation is worsened by Istanbul’s overwhelming population. It becomes immediately evident the moment you set foot in to one of the bustling bazaars, or takepublic transport around the city. Getting a seat on a bus is a luxury, and breathing space on a busy tram is a privilege few are granted.Of course, this is all part and parcel of the city, and the travelling experience itself.
But busy areas are a playground for those looking for a good grope.
When you realise, whilst crammed on rush hour public transport, that what your thought was someone’s shopping bag poking your leg is actually an erection, (sometimes accompanied by a suggestive grin)…it becomes whole lot less enjoyable.
Despite being undoubtedly fed by sexual oppression, this type of harassment isn’t solely carried out through carnal desire. It derives from gender inequality, and the way women are often objectified and ‘owned’ by men.
We, as women often feel victimised by being inappropriately touched, yet rarely react, rather keep quiet and hope the journey is over quickly. In turn, this acts as a green light for the men doing the groping.
The high rate of sexual harassment on a ‘minor’ level, and its repeated acceptance, has led to a culture that wallows in tolerance of these violations.
Istanbul would not be the city it is without the hustle and bustle; its chaos defines it and makes it memorable to those who visit. But this should not come hand in hand with someone making sexual gestures at you on the bus to work or trying to grope your crotch whilst you buy Turkish Delight at your local bazaar.
This habit of sexual pestering should be aggressively tackled, or Istanbul’s reputation of a magnificent, historical city risks being preceded by one of wandering hands and leering eyes.
In Iran a woman has been reported to have beat up a cleric who asked her to cover herself up. Since the revolution of 1979, women are asked to cover their hair and body curves with loose clothing and police patrol the streets to protect religious values and “preserve society’s morals and security”. More on the story here
Here is the story of a young egyptian woman who was brutally killed after reacting to a man groping her in the street. Street harassment has lately become a major issue in post-revolution Egypt and activists are demanding to be heard: the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights already sent a draft law to the president but has yet to receive an answer.no comments
CATCALLED is a writing project about street harassment that took place in New York in August 2012. During 2 weeks, participants wrote daily posts about their experiences of harassment. Currently it’s still going strong with pieces about women’s vulnerability, power, objectification and safety in the street.
Check it out at http://catcalled.tumblr.com/no comments
Another step in the use of mobile technology against harassment has been taken: the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children in Toronto (Canada) helped release an Iphone application called “Not your baby” which provides victims of harassment with prompt responses, chosen depending on the setting and the identity of the harasser. Check out the article at Jezebel.no comments
Full article from Learnstuff.com
New research shows that women speak less than men when a group collaborates to solve a problem. The amount of time that women spoke in group projects was significantly less than their proportional representation – adding to less than 75 percent of the time that men spoke. “When women participated more, they brought unique and helpful perspectives to the issue under discussion,” researcher Karpowitz said. “We’re not just losing the voice of someone who would say the same things as everybody else in the conversation.” Read more about the research here: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-09/byu-wsl091812.php
What did you do during Bayram? Like most people, you probably enjoyed your vacation talking strolls with your friends around the city. In Cairo, during the three days of Bayram (Eid al-Ahda in Arabic), not everyone could enjoy their free time: 727 cases of sexual harassment were reported. And most of them happened in front of the police, who stood there doing nothing.
In October 2012, Istanbul was selected as one of the cities for hosting a new UN center for women’s rights. This wing of the UN was created in 2010 and is dedicated to giving women and girls a voice. Check out the article from SEtimes – how do you think it’ll affect street harassment in Istanbul?
A couple nights ago I was ambushed by a group of teenagers. While it was the most invasive and violent form of harassment I’ve suffered yet, the night ended with me feeling the most empowered I’ve ever felt after being harassed.
I’ve lived in Istanbul – on both the Asian and European sides – for nearly two years. Like many women I know, I am harassed everyday whether it is leering, whistling, hissing, stalking or (my personal favorite) what I like to call casual groping.
Yes, I was harassed Stateside. But the stuff back home typically didn’t escalate past honking and whistling, and usually from speeding pick-up trucks. Not that that’s not bad, of course, but I had never seen, for example, a woman beaten up in the street in broad daylight in front of a bunch of people before I moved here. I had never experienced such blatant leering or butt grabbing. Maybe I just hadn’t noticed in the US because I had become desensitized to it, or maybe it happens more in larger cities like Chicago and New York.
Anyway, I digress…when I first moved here, I admittedly didn’t respond to harassment. It was a combination of shock, fear and humiliation. Like many women I know, I internalized the harassment. It must be something I’m doing, I thought. I changed how I dressed, how I walked, how I behaved. On the streets, I stopped smiling and looked down. The harassment continued, of course.
Meanwhile, I grew tired, angry, stressed out. I felt alone. I wanted desperately to be respectful and culturally sensitive but couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.
But then I talked with other women, and I realized I was not alone. And I became more passionate about and active in the advancement of women’s rights in Turkey, the US and around the world. As a journalist in Istanbul, I made my niche discrimination and violence against women.
As I wrote everyday about cases of harassment and violence, I realized responding in the moment is essential if we want to put a stop to street harassment and the misogynistic mentality behind it.
I remember writing about a Turkish lawyer who was jogging when a guy grabbed her and fled. Refusing to let her harasser escape, she boldly chased her harasser for twenty minutes before police arrived and apprehended him.
Of course saying we must respond and actually doing it are very different. It took me months to be able to work up the courage to finally respond in Turkish to verbal harassment I received every morning on my way to work. The harasser was taken aback, and it felt good.
And then I was attacked a couple nights ago by the group of teenage boys. I didn’t see it coming; I was only a couple seconds away from my apartment. As they violently groped me, all of the frustration, shock and fear I always feel when I’m harassed came flooding back. I broke down into teary, blubbering mess. But then I looked back and saw their faces. They were smirking, laughing, pointing.
Taking a note from the lawyer, I sprinted after them. I screamed and pointed so bystanders would help, and about 30 did show up. One of the kids’ shoe fell of as he scrammed. I hurled it at him.
For the first time ever, I called the police to file a complaint. When that officer wasn’t very helpful, my room mate and I visited the nearest police station. We spent almost an hour explaining how we feel when we are harassed with a couple of plainclothes officers…and we demanded they do something about it. Now there are two more officers stationed where women are harassed on a daily basis.
Since I moved here, the harassment has not changed. But my reaction has. I’ve decided to take control.3 comments
A few people have recently told us that they have been harassed so much, they carry pepper spray to protect themselves. Then we found this guide to homemade pepper spray and this got us thinking, how many of you have pepper spray? Is it a solution to street harassment?
Director Kacie Lyn Kocher shares: “I have pepper spray that I keep at home, but I’m not very comfortable carrying it around with me in public for the most part. However, I was talking about this with someone, and she told me that she had so many frightening incidents with street harassment that she began to carry pepper spray for protection. That was three months ago, and not one person has harassed her since then. Of course they don’t know she’s carrying pepper spray in her purse, but maybe pepper spray gives her the confidence and perhaps even the attitude that makes harassers less interested in harassing her. This is the real question: How can we give those prone to be victims of harassment that confidence? Whether pepper spray, self defense training, or public speaking practice, we should find ways as a community to cultivate those solutions.”no comments
When I first began to discuss bringing a Hollaback branch to Istanbul, I received unexpected support from almost everyone I spoke to. Yet, a few shining exceptions to that general support revealed just how big of a problem we were and continue to try to tackle here in Turkey and in the world. We are up against an intolerance of others. For over a year, people have shared with me that they supported our work with women, but not those, you know, “alternative” types. Those gays. Yes, from the beginning, we have been been challenged by those with conditional support of a movement against street harassment. They had a mother. They had a sister. If someone touched them, that was absolutely wrong. But a transgendered person getting grabbed—well, lets not think that about that or those people.
My usual response to these conditional supporters is: ‘Harassment is a form of discrimination against someone else. Now an anti-discrimination movement discriminating on whom they represent—are you joking?’ We, as Canimiz Sokakta: Hollaback Istanbul, stand for everyone. We stand for people of all types. And we stand against harassment of all types. I am proud to be a part of this movement. As for anyone who wants to justify why we should protect the rights of only “acceptable” people, I invite you to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will take time to answer you personally.
Sunday, July 1st will be my second pride parade in Istanbul, and I encourage everyone to join. It is a fantastic day, and I had a great time cheering and marching with pride last year. Tellingly enough, however, at last year’s parade, I was harassed. As we walked down Istiklal, holding a flag the size of a building, someone passing by spit on me. I was too invigorated by the day for it to really matter at the time, but I think back on it now. Harassment is ugly and disgusting, and someone spit on me because they disagreed with what they presumed was my lifestyle or they disagreed with my values. In all seriousness, why does someone think they have the right to show that disagreement by violating me? Can they not speak? Can they not engage in a dialogue where we are both conversing as human beings? No. This person and harassers like them have no understanding and respect for contrary opinions.
If we are left in a world where aggression and violence are used to put people in their place, are used to silence people, are used to belittle and disempower others, we are left in a world of dispair, anger, and combat. I have hope for us though. Every day, I see people passionate about tolerance, equality, and empathy. I see people trying to do good in the world by voicing their beliefs and opinions, and respecting others with differences. Despite a constant threat of violence, they tell the world that they exist and will no longer be silenced. That is what the Pride Parade is about. And I encourage you and your friends to attend in two weeks time. Because when we stand together we are the community we all deserve to be a part of.
I cannot think of a single female friend in Istanbul who has not faced verbal or physical harassment in the streets of this incredible city at least once. Whether it was my friend who was trapped in a minibus after all the other passengers had exited before her stop and the driver refused to stop and let her off, or the friend who was grabbed while walking down her own street in a family neighborhood, or the friend who was chased down a busy street followed by shouts of “Natasha, Natasha” (a name that has become equivalent with prostitute in Turkey), it seems every woman has her own story of a time she felt unsafe during her normal daily activity. After living in Istanbul for nearly a year and a half, I have learned to navigate Istiklal Street and others like it with a set of invisible blinders shielding my view of leering men who often walk unnecessarily close and a set of enormous headphones to block out the sound of their taunts. Personally, two instances stand out in my memory of times when neither headphones nor invisible blinders could help me escape—once on the Metrobüs and once mere meters from my flat in Taksim.
In the first instance, I was riding home with a friend after watching Croatia defeat Turkey in football at Galatasaray Stadyum. I thought the hunched, aged man standing behind me had merely bumped into me due to the bus’s abrupt turn but when I felt a hand on a my back, I knew it had not been a mishap. Although I stared at him in shock and jumped away, my Turkish failed me and left me at a loss for words in the suddenness of the moment. A Turkish woman who had witnessed the event stepped in and publicly shamed the man by calling him out for what he had done. She then apologized to me in English for his behavior and advised me to stand with my back to the wall when riding the Metrobüs in the future.
In the second instance, I had said goodbye to a friend on Istiklal Street and was walking the 200 meters to my flat when I realized that two men were following me on either side. Afraid they would discover where I lived, I ducked into the nearby Tekel shop where I often buy water and snacks. The owner recognized me and after I described what had happened, kindly told me to wait there some minutes until his son could accompany me home. By that time the two men had left, and I was able to enter my apartment building safely.
Both of these stories stand out to me not only because of the disgust, anger and helplessness that I felt at the time, but also because of the assistance that was given to me by a stranger and a mere acquaintance. In popular psychology, there is a concept called the “bystander effect,” a phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely it is that people will help someone in distress because of the diffusion of responsibility and the desire to act in a socially acceptable manner. This phenomenon is often described in textbooks with the controversial and often criticized example of Catherine ‘Kitty’ Genovese, a woman who was murdered in New York City in the 1960s while her neighbors watched. What strikes me about my experience on the Metrobüs and when I was followed on Istiklal Street was that the fellow bus rider and shop owner who helped me acted surprisingly and were not affected by the “bystander effect.” They took it upon themselves to help someone whom they owed nothing to.
Recently, Hollaback International has partnered with the Green Dot organization. In connection with Hollaback, a Green Dot represents a bystander who refuses to sit quietly back when someone is experiencing harassment. My Green Dots were the female bus rider and male shopkeeper who showed that I can feel safe in Istanbul and that there are others who are brave enough to be bystanders in action. It’s important for us to act the same way when we are in the shoes of the bystander–now, I feel that I must pay forward the compassionate actions of these two individuals by helping the next person I see who is experiencing harassment, whether it be based on religion, gender or any other factor. The time for silence is over, whether as a bystander or as a person who has experienced harassment and has yet to share his/her story.
Earlier this year a political scientist named James Q. Wilson passed away. He was best known for his ‘broken window’ theory, which said that if a window in a house was broken and left unrepaired, soon all the windows in the house would be, and crime of all types would increase. If the window were fixed, crime would go elsewhere.
This idea was taken up most famously by Rudy Giuliani, who decided to change New York City’s reputation for crime by addressing the very smallest things: the broken windows, the people begging on the street. By almost any account, it seems to have worked: the crime rate in New York today is not even comparable to what it was in the 80s.
We at Hollaback are big believers in the broken window theory. We believe that street harassment is the very top level of a deep problem of unequal treatment between men and women. If we can address the way that women are treated in public, we think that the way men and women relate to each other in the home, school, and workplace will be improved.
This is why I’m so glad that we had the chance to screen Miss Representation, an American documentary that explores the way women are represented in the media, back in March. The documentary, like Hollaback, forces us to confront assumptions we usually don’t even realize we make. Why do we evaluate a woman’s leadership and personality qualities based on how she dresses? Why do we think women politicians ‘complain’ whereas men ‘state’? What are we assuming about a politician’s emotional state and worthiness to lead based on that choice of word?
The Miss Representation screening was attended by nearly 200 people: men and women, headscarved and tank-top-wearing, black and white. There’s clearly interest in, and momentum for, changing the status quo here. Yet change requires more than a gathering to watch a thought-provoking documentary.
So how to fix these broken windows? We’re now in the process of putting together a report on women’s representation in the media across the countries where Hollaback is active, which we hope will offer concrete examples of how media actors and regulatory agencies can foster a more balanced portrayal of women. Want to get involved?
If you’re interested in helping with our research project, please contact email@example.com
I remember the first time I got unwanted attention from a man. I was about 12 and walking to the corner shop to pick up butter for my mother. A man in a truck slowed down and started whistling and then began speaking Spanish to me. I was confused and unsure of what he wanted and stopped to see if I could help. When I turned towards him, he made the Peace Sign, put it up to his mouth and stuck his tongue out. I didn’t know what it meant but chills ran through my body and I ran as fast as I could to the store. I grew up in downtown Chicago and found out quickly that this type of behavior would be like my period, a constant pain that I couldn’t ignore even if I crossed my eyes like the little Huxtable girl tried to do on The Bill Cosby Show to stop her flow.
I never saw that man again, he will always be nameless to me but it marked a turning point in my life. It marked the day I would never feel completely safe on the street again. I began thinking about this man on Saturday night when I was in Taksim. It was the night of the Galatasaray vs. Fenerbahce Championship game and things were a bit hectic on Istikal Street, to say the least. I was walking with a guy friend when all the sudden a man walked past us and grabbed my left breast. It happened so quickly that it took me a moment to process that I was just groped. When I turned to yell at the guy, he had vanished in the crowded street. My friend and I continued on our way and started talking about harassment. He admitted that he tends to forget that this is a constant struggle and pain for women and asked about the first time I was ever harassed. I told him about my pre-pubescent trek to the corner store. As we continued to talk about the reality of street harassment, it dawned on me how similar these two men are and the real reason why they infuriate me. While I don’t like being touched or verbally harassed, I realized that was not what bothered me the most. What really ticks me off is that I never will be able to hold either man accountable for their actions. I believe strongly that both men have forgotten about me, I was just a brief moment of play for them, an adrenaline rush that faded minutes after I was out of their sight. But their actions impacted my life. For a year I was afraid to go to the market alone as a child and I will always remember the 2012 Galatasaray vs. Fenerbahce match as the night I was groped.
Anonymity allows these men to get away with harassing women. But my question is how do you hold someone you don’t know accountable for his actions? I think the answer is a bit depressing; you can’t confront a nameless harasser after he’s gone and you can never directly explain to him why his behavior hurt you. That is the sad truth. But the good news is that in our globalized, viral world we do have a lot more forums and networks to increase awareness and express our grievances. Organizations like Hollaback are an amazing way to fight back. I think creating a dialogue about this reality is imperative to help stop it from occurring. I know sometimes when I am harassed, I feel powerless. But it’s important to remember we all have a voice, it’s just important for everyone to choose when, where, how and why they want to use it.