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.