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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.
While walking with friends towards Istiklal Cd. a man grabbed my friend’s bottom and his friend touched my other friend a moment later. My friend became very upset and angry and followed the guy onto Istiklal, tapped him on the shoulder and slapped him! The two men became aggressive and we quickly walked away after saying “cok ayip” (shameful) to the guys. Not the smartest reaction, but my friend felt much better afterward!
Last week after the Fenerbache vs Galtasaray match I was walking down Istiklal with a friend. The streets were crowded and the people were very wild. As we walked past Galatasaray High School, a man grabbed my left breast. It happened so quickly, it took me a moment to process it. I turned around to ‘Hollaback’ but he was gone. My guy friend was very upset but I was oddly apathetic. I realized that this behavior has occurred so often that my rage and shock has diminished a bit. This really upsets me.
I live in Istanbul and in many ways I really love this place. Two months ago, I was really ashamed of this city and found myself apologizing to others because of how we were treated on the streets. A few American friends were visiting the city and we were able to meet up and have a cup of coffee after I finished work. Walking down Istiklal to one of my trusty cafes I was victim to more harassment that I have ever experienced within a five minute time frame in Istanbul. At 7pm on a Monday night, men were following us, calling out, groups trying to surround us and dominate us. We were four foreign women. Harasser after harasser we were followed and shouted at consistently throughout our entire walk. I was mortified.
I have walked down Istiklal with three other foreign women before and have never received some much negative and aggressive attention. It was because my friends Asian-American, whose parents were from China. It was racist harassment by multiple men, multiple groups, and my friends and I were targets because we were different. Harassment isn’t just sexual. It can be racist and it can be just as hurtful and threatening. We should find ways to open the dialogue about this too.
It was 1am Friday night on Istiklal. There was the standard weekend night crowd: a mix of drunk people stumbling to their next destinations and others racing to get home safely. My boyfriend and I were holding hands walking down the middle of the street where it was clearest, on our way home from a night out. There was nothing different, and nothing that felt threatening, so naturally, I couldn’t immediately register what had happened when a group of three guys passed us and one grabbed my ass. In that moment I was laughing about something with my boyfriend, and then it happened. I was still laughing when it registered with me and said, “That guy just grabbed me!” It started to sink in how uncomfortable I felt–even though the perpetrator was at least 50 feet away from us, it felt like his hand was still pressed onto my backside.
It was a fraction of a second between the moment I was laughing and the moment I was pulling my boyfriend to stop from going after the three guys. Yes, I wanted my groper to get punched but it’s not like that would have reversed what just happened. It would not have made me feel any less violated. I just wanted to get home and I didn’t want my boyfriend getting hurt. Besides, I didn’t know which of the three guys it was–I didn’t pay them any attention when they passed us, why should I have? I didn’t want the wrong guy to get blamed.
This wasn’t the first time I’d been harassed, certainly not in Istanbul, but it was by far the most shocking. I have never felt so helpless.
Unfortunately, street harassment is all too common, and most of us have developed strategies to avoid it when we know it’s more likely to happen: walking quickly, avoiding eye contact, using a different route to get home. But it shouldn’t be that way–it shouldn’t be a norm to AVOID, it should be a norm that does not EXIST.
I keep thinking about what I would and should do next time. Sadly, I do believe there will be a next time. Hopefully, though, the “next times” will become fewer over time as we empower more people to speak out against street harassment. Soon, we will no longer have to find ways to AVOID it because it will not be the norm.
I have experienced several types of harassment living in Istanbul ranging from staring (sometimes just out of curiosity, sometimes sexually), to groping, to hissing/shouting/mumbling degrading things, to actual assault.
A friend from the U.S. was visiting me and having difficulty ignoring the staring and hissing. After two days of harassment she was really losing her patience, but she wanted to see the nightlife so we went out in Taksim, had a nice time and were on our way home. It was late at night, but we were both sober and trying to quietly walk down Istiklal, which was still really crowded. A man approached us to come to a club, putting his arm around my friend and she lost it and started screaming at him, so I pulled her up a side street and begged her to just ignore it. As we weaved through the streets it got quieter and a young man blocked our way and asked us to go to his club “Yes please! Cheap drinks! Nice music!” My friend and I were very calm and polite and I told him in Turkish we were tired and going home. We finally made our way past him and he started yelling obscenities at us and calling us names. After a year of not talking back to any of these men, I turned, looked him in the eye, and cursed back at him. We then turned on a more crowded street and walked away. Moments later my friend saw him running up and he suddenly pulled my hair. Something clicked in my (tiny) friend and she pushed me out of the way and was screaming at him and punched him. He soon slapped her, back-handing her to the ground and my instinct was to grab her (still screaming) and get out of there. This happened right in front of a bunch of restaurants with several people sitting at them and milling about. No one did anything, no one asked if we were okay, no one said anything to the guy, nothing.