Earlier this week a man in a car pulled up next to a 14-year old girl on a street in Florida and offered to pay her $200 to have sex with him. Some people would say that’s a compliment. It’s part of being out in society, learning to deal with people, navigating relationships between men and women. Or, at least that what many commenters on articles I write about street harassment think. That or maybe they’re thinking, “She must have looked like a prostitute,” and well, you know.
The girl said no. So what does this guy do? He reaches out, drags her, by her hair, into his car, chokes her until she blacks out, tosses her out of the car and then, not done yet, he runs her over several times. Bystanders watched the entire episode in shock. He almost killed her, but she lived and ID’d him in a line up and he’s been arrested and charged with Attempted Murder, Aggravated Battery with a Deadly Weapon and False Imprisonment. What was the Deadly Weapon referred to in the charge I wonder? Given our normatively male understanding interpretation of what is threatening, does a man pulling up to a girl like this and talking to her in this way constitute imminent harm?
This was an incident of street harassment taken to extremes.
You’re thinking, “He’s crazy! You can’t possibly put what he did in the same category as street harassment!” Yes, I can.
He stopped and talked to a girl he did not know and he told her what he thought and what he wanted her to do. Clearly, he felt this was okay, or he wouldn’t have done it. This isn’t insanity, it’s entitlement. This is, in principle, the same as men who say, “Smile,” “Want a ride?" "Suck on this" and on and on and on. And, that’s all before the public groping that might ensue.
OK. No big deal I’ve been told. But, he went further, as is often the case. When she said no, he just took her. He crossed a red line that seriously needs to be moved. “Taking someone” should not be the “red line” for public incivility and safe access to public space.
We hear about cases like this with dulling regularity and, undoubtedly, we don’t hear about even more. Just a smattering of examples:
- In San Francisco last year, a man stabbed a woman in the face and arm after she didn’t respond positively to his sexually harassing her on the street.
- In Bradenton, Fla., a man shot a high school senior to death after she and her friends refused to perform oral sex at his request. I
- In Chicago, a scared 15-year-old was hit by a car and died after she tried escaping from harassers on a bus.
- Again, in Chicago, a man grabbed a 19-year-old walking on a public thoroughfare, pulled her onto a gangway and assaulted her.
- In Savannah, Georgia, a woman was walking alone at night and three men approached her. She ignored them, but they pushed her to the ground and sexually assaulted her
- In Manhattan, a 29-year-old pregnant woman was killed when men catcalling from a van drove onto the sidewalk and hit her and her friend.
- Last week, a runner in California — a woman — was stopped and asked, by a strange man in a car, if she wanted a ride. When she declined he ran her over twice.
And, lest we forget, we’re one big happy planet family here and this exact same dynamic happens the world over in varying degrees and to varying effect. Women operating freely and independently in public is a relatively recent historical development, a shift in social order. Street harassment acts like a thermidor.
What happened to this girl in Florida should make everyone pause. If he did what he’d done in India, people here might be inclined to say, “What a horrible place that is for women.” (Which is true.) Instead, what we say is, “He’s a lunatic,” or, better still, “What was she doing for him to think he could stop and offer her money for sex?” While this man is dangerous, he’s probably not mentally ill. If he is, then so are the millions of other men that feel entitled to assault and brutalize children and women and “othered” people every day.
FUCK YOU if you think that street harassment is a “compliment” or “no big deal” or that it’s “irrational” of us to be afraid because “what’s actually gonna happen.” Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you some more.
This is terrorism.