Sunday, 18 March 2012


Street harassment is one of the topics that comes up most often when we are talking. As a result, it was a natural decision to decide to co-sponsor International Anti-Street Harassment Week which starts today. To mark the week, we will be taking it in turns to share our experiences of street harassment - one for each day of the week.


On New Year's Eve, before I went out to celebrate the arrival of 2012 (ohhh Olympics!), I prayed that I would have a good night, get home safely, and not get raped. It’s actually a regular prayer: God please keep me safe on London's streets. I don't pray about the familiar ones - like Oxford Street with porny Soho at one end and posh Mayfair at the other, drunk arseholes throughout - I mean God please keep me safe on my road, and the one next to it, and the one next to that.

At last year's Reclaim the Night march, I, along with a thousand other women, chanted, “Whose streets? Our Streets!” Our streets. But it isn’t true, not at all.

Anyway. Back to New Years. On my way home from my NYE party, after negotiating the wretchedness that is public transport at 3am on 1st January, a man followed me in his car while I walked down a local street, imploring me to join him in the vehicle. "Babe. Babe! Oi! Where you going? Where you going? Y'wan lift? Come for a drink. Babe! Oi" and so on. He actually reversed his car down the road to keep pace with me, gesticulating and shouting until eventually he got bored and drove away.

It pissed me off, of course.

But what made me even angrier was that completely I forgot about the incident until hours after I woke up the next day. Let’s hear that again: I forgot that in the early hours of the morning, a man chased me down a dark street, with no intervention by the one (male) witness – what did I expect? – making increasingly aggressive remarks. Had he got out and grabbed me I'm pretty sure he could have dragged me into his car. And the reason I forgot about it is because this sort of sexual harassment in the street (whose streets? Our streets!) is so normal to me, so ordinary, so bloody commonplace, that I barely registered it as an incident of note.

As well as this campaigning week, there are groups around, such as Hollaback and ASH campaign, that aim to challenge and combat street harassment in the UK. All helpful, supportive communities of women sharing their stories and lobbying for an effective government response to the problem.

I can't bear a "what about the menz" response to feminist issues, yet I can’t help but think that we also need to hear a male voice here. Because this isn't solely a woman's issue, actually. Actually, this is an issue that must be highlighted and challenged through every corner of society. As a woman, I already know I shouldn't have to put up with this shit. We all do. So where are the men saying that this sort of behaviour is unacceptable?

Since puberty – not adulthood, PUBERTY- I have been routinely subject to sexual, agressive comments by men in the street, on public transport, in the workplace, day and night. Walking home from work, I run a gauntlet of barber shops, pubs, cafes, bookies, outside each one a group of men smoking, watching, staring, every day every day (please please please don't notice me, please don't say anything to me)...

Sometimes, men have touched me around my waist, breasts, arse… often, without speaking to me (not that it makes a difference). Once, in a bar a man grabbed me between my legs – labia, everything – then laughed when I turned around: "I was only're really fit..."

NYE man also probably thought he was paying me a compliment of some sort. Or maybe he thought that because I was walking down the street (our streets!) on my own I was also up for a shag. I don’t know. Someone explain it to me please. Where are the men - the good ones, right? the ones I'm mates with, yeah? - speaking to other men and calling them out for what this is? HARASSMENT.

- Anouchka Burton


  1. Hey, I'm a black American woman who's been through this street harassment shit more than once in my life. This essay made me think of times when I've been accosted by in broad daylight, not just in nighttime, when I first moved to the big city as an adult from a kind of sheltered existence in a small suburban town to the big city (Detroit.) For the first time, in my life I had to deal with being around a whole bunch of strange men,as well as just plain strangers, all the time, that whole harsh, in-your-face city mentality. It took me a good six months or so to get used to that, and adjusting to that was difficult/messed me up psychologically for a while afterwards.

    Anyway, I digress. I remember only a couple of years I was walking down a main street in the city in broad daylight, when a young guy in an old Chevrolet slowly drove up besides me and tried to talk to me. I made it clear that I wasn't interested in doing that, but what kills me is that he STILL continued to follow even though I had made it plain that I didn't want to talk to him. He finally gave up and merged with the traffic, but I was like, "Damn, what the hell was his problem? I told him to leave me the hell alone!" I would hate to think what would have happened if this same thing had taken place at night. In fact, I was chased down by a guy on a bike one night earlier this year at 3:00 A.M. while walking home on that same main street after visiting a friend in a nursing home. Some young punk tried to talk to me, I told him didn't want to be bothered, but did he leave me alone? Hell no---he figured since I was all alone walking at that time in the morning, that this gave him carte blanche to f*** with me. So he started riding in circles around me and taunting. I was truly scared, but mad as hell, and started cursing him out every way I could think of. He finally got bored and rode off, me still cursing him out even after he'd ridden a long distance away. I was pissed off at myself for not having threatened to kick his ass, and not remembering to use my pepper spray (which I had completely forgotten about) or, I'm thinking, I should have at least grabbed his bike and threatened to bust him up side the head with it. Of course that didn't happen, and I was mad as hell at myself for wimping out under the circumstances,regardless. I did cuss him out the whole time he was threatening me, so that's the only consolation I got out of it.

    Anyway, I've had to deal with street harrassment for a long time, and like some of the writers on this site, it becomes so normalized to the point where you have to actually consider what you're going to wear so you won't get any unwanted attention (but even that dosen't always work, since some men will holler at you no matter how covered up you are--you don't always have to wear skintight clothing with everything hanging out for attention,surprisingly enough.) Anyhow, that is life---how you deal with it is what matters, and it dosen't mean you have to accept it all the damn time---I sure as hell didn't! Plus I'm glad to be a feminist---I'm a still young-feeling well-over 35 feminist,BTW, in good health and loving it! Nice to see my sisters on the other side of the pond kicking ass feminist-style!

  2. You should've slapped the hell out of that bastard the felt you up at the bar---no way in hell would I have let anybody get away with that kind of s***.