Students Experience Sexual Harassment, Too

By Sofia Colborn

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Last fall, the #metoo movement blew up worldwide after the exposure of Hollywood fixture Harvey Weinstein as a notorious sexual predator. Sexual misconduct, often considered taboo, has always been an issue and it exists in many different forms. It can be a small comment, a creepy wink, physical groping, or rape. Yet only recently has the issue of sexual harassment received so much public attention. The #metoo movement has influenced many women to come forward with their trauma. As evident in these women’s stories, sexual harassment is common in situations where one person has power over another. The issue still is not dealt with properly in the political world; sexual harassment is hard to prove and prosecute. Yet ending sexual harassment is a fight we must never give up on. We want a safe culture for all women and girls–a non-toxic and respectful world, sans sexism and sexual harassment.

As a 14-year-old-girl who frequently takes the NYC subway, I’ve experienced a lot of catcalling. It’s gotten worse as I’ve grown older; I was only 12 when I was first conscious of experiencing sexual harassment. I was with my one of my best friends, Hannah, doing a photoshoot for our art class with masks we made. My mask was that of a cat. To match the mask, I dressed in black clothes and threw on a tail. We were on the sidewalk of a nice, uncrowded street when a middle-aged man walked by and asked me in a creepily “kind” way, “You growing a tail or something?” while laughing and smiling at me. Then he did something really gross–he reached down and grabbed my tail, stroking it. I froze in confusion and shock. All Hannah could do was give him a look. We were only 12; it took us a second to realize what this man just did to me. Ever since then, I’ve seen guys winking at me, wiggling their eyebrows, looking me up and down, and telling me to smile as I walk by with a straight face and a quick glare.

In a recent experience, I was leaning against a wall at the edge of Union Square. A man smiled at me and asked me if I was a model. I looked him right in the eye and said “No. I’m 14.” After that, he walked away pretty quickly, his trolley cart trailing behind him.

Many high school students experience this kind of street harassment. Hannah, a 14-year-old freshman in NYC, described one such encounter: “I think it was around 80 degrees and I was on my way to ballet class. I was running a little late so I decided to wear my leotard and tights under my shorts and T-shirt. When I got off the train, I passed by these [middle-aged] men who were standing near a corner deli and had clearly been drinking…One of the men yelled at me ‘Hey ballerina! Hey ballerina! Look at me! Smile, baby!’ and [laughed] with his friends. I was upset but I had to ignore it and keep on walking.”

Other common experiences include being winked at or hollered at from trucks, and even being touched inappropriately. An acquaintance once told me about a man who touched her breast on her way to school as a 12-year-old.

I used to be terrified of the idea of a big man standing over me, making me feel small and helpless. After having men hit on me, comment on my outfits, and even circle around me on a bike, I’m not as scared anymore. I see right through their desperate, insensible attempts to seem attractive or cool. In reality, they are clueless and ignorant–and probably extremely self-conscious. Knowing this makes me feel in control; it lets me glare back at the winks and walk past the up-down looks.

No one should ever have to fear sexual harassment. No one should feel like getting harrassed is their fault either because it never is. Now, we have to stand strong together and hold our heads high.