What to do?

Cross posted from Stop Street Harassment Blog:

I live in a D.C. suburb (Md) in a well-established community that has a small town atmosphere. There are lots of walking paths and recreation. I am frequently out and about, walking, jogging, biking, as I don’t have a car and work in the community. I’m in forties and carry myself with confidence. I’m tall and fit. I don’t think of myself as any kind of easy mark and certainly had hoped I’d aged out of being harassed in general.

For the last several years, though, a resident man has been occasionally sexually harassed me. At first it didn’t quite register; this is the kind of place where you say hello when you pass someone and it’s not uncommon to frequently see the same people. But it soon became unmistakable.

Turns out this guy has bothered my (even older) sister too. He’s a short, fat, repellent fellow -sorry, I have to say it; I don’t feel charitable – and one of his favorite methods is to bike by a woman, wait until the last possible minute and then make a lewd comment or sound, after which he quickly bikes away. I had just been doing the Old Conventional Wisdom of saying nothing but feeling totally icky inside whenever this happened. Any time I’d see him, I’d get wary and tense up.

Until a year ago when another local woman who I don’t know posted a message on our town’s internet list serve, relating a tale of being harassed. I knew immediately it was the same man by her description and was able to chime in on the public list that he had bothered me as well. I said he was relying on anonymity which struck me as preposterous in our small town and added that I sometimes thought of jamming a big stick into his bike spokes as he went for his *getaway* (but tacked on that I have a vivid imagination! I knew better than to appear like some crazy whack-nut but at the same time I hoped the message would get to him somehow that we weren’t all just going to passively take it. I wanted the idea planted that someone could fight back).

Evidently he saw or heard about the other woman’s post and he emailed her an apology. I did not receive any apology. She also passed on his name and confirmed his address to me, which I definitely wanted to know. Problem solved right?! He’s been publicly embarrassed and that’ll teach him to leave women alone. You’d think.

So 2009 passed without incident. I saw him around but he said nothing to me (or my sister) and I began to relax. (I even said thank you to him once when he moved his bike aside on the sidewalk behind his home as I passed.) Until last weekend.

It was a cold day and my sister and I took a walk in our local park. That man came biking toward us. We both tensed and to my shock, he leered and said something lewd right as he came by us. I couldn’t believe it! I was so livid, my heart pounding, that this time, for the first time, I hollered “SHUT UP!!” at his retreating fat backside. We walked on debating what to do. I just couldn’t believe that public embarrassment in a small town last year did not put an end to this!

Let me point out that the obvious suggestion, that he’s mentally ill and can’t help himself, doesn’t apply. All along this troll has picked & chosen the target and the location with care. He waits till he sees you alone somewhere. For all I know it’s the whole point of his bike rides (he’s certainly not dropping any pounds). One time he approached a man I was talking to in our local town center, with lots of people around, and he didn’t even glance my way. I look back and regret that I didn’t challenge him right then and there. But I don’t think I’m being singled out – I doubt he even recognized me in that context. He wasn’t even looking at me.

My sister and I continued our walk and once again Mr. Charm came biking toward us. We weren’t going to say anything, but again, at the last moment, he got an ugly look on his face said something hostile and mocking about my having said *shut up*. And again, I hollered at his back that was he was doing was harassment and that we knew his name and where he lived. He was mouthing off so I doubt he listened to me. My sister reported he was giving us the finger. She called him a pig (something I had already told her wasn’t going to help…).

We were within walking distance of our police station and after some discussion, went there. The officer we spoke to was antagonistic and unhelpful. He didn’t care, not even that this man had been reported before. The officer wanted to argue with us. Somehow we were at fault. I was disgusted but would not be drawn into a debate and said so. We soon left, with no resolution from our lovely police enforcement and protector of our safety (ha).

As I write this I am debating how to proceed. I can’t just do nothing and hope it doesn’t happen again. Even if this man starts to recognize me – as opposed to being just one of the many anonymous women he bothers – and leave me alone (or worse ratchet up his hostility and aggression), that doesn’t help the other women I am certain he is harassing. It cannot just be one woman I don’t know (who has since moved away) and me and my sister who he is victimizing.

But I’m troubled. Being called out, even if not by name, on a public list – one which is monitored by the local Council, the local police, and the local papers – did not make this man stop. He merely took a break. I could return to the public list serve with my story and possibly print his name this time. I could go to his home address and leave a large note on his front door telling me to stop sexually harassing local women. I could also write to the local paper (I don’t know if they’d print it; I feel certain they would not print his name.)

It happens that I have a copy of Back Off! which I had never read. I fished it out and started reading. I was glad to see so much confirmation of what I already felt and believed. I had confronted him as the book suggested (even if my sister under-mined that tack a bit with name-calling). But it didn’t matter because he wasn’t listening. The book doesn’t talk about that or how to handle it if the man just leaves, as in the case of the quick bike getaways. I could wait until I find this man in public somewhere not on his bike, but who knows when that will be, and moreover the idea just makes me sick with anxiety. Besides: haven’t we – more than one woman in more than one way – already told him this is not acceptable?

I’m afraid if I do something – and I feel I must – that there will be retaliation. He looks like he could do some damage. I have no fighting training. (But have begun to consider getting some…) Do I start carrying pepper spray? I’d like to believe that further making this public will help. But I also must tell you that a woman was sexually assaulted and attacked in the middle of the day at this very same park in the Fall by another local man and while the case is going through the court system, there has been NO local outcry. Only I posted something about it to our list serve. Other posters? Silent. The local paper? Silent. The Council? Silent. How can I expect a community to get behind me and be as outraged as I am by harassment if they are unexcited about an assault and attempted rape?

My best hope I think is to appeal to other people’s own concerns – to point out this man could be harassing their loved ones – wife, daughter, sister, friend. Until it hits home, I’m afraid that crime or harassment in this case, is not of tremendous concern. There’s a sense that *This isn’t my problem.* In that way, I do feel alone and that I have to fight this battle alone.

Submitted by Colette on 1/27/2010

Location: Maryland suburb of Washington, DC

8 responses to “What to do?

  1. the lack of repentance is always a quandry, isn’t it?

    find out if there’s a female cop in your town, appeal to her. or go to the boss. what else is sexual harassment? what else is their job?

    good luck fighting the good fight!

  2. I wrote this yesterday on stopstreetharassment, but will put it here to in case collette will see it…

    Colette,
    first, I’m so sorry for all that you are going through. And props for all your tenacity and creativity in dealing with this guy. I have a few ideas on how you can take more steps to hopefully stop him. Some include dealing with the police from a different approach, or the county’s complaint/victim services/advocates people,or the council of the county or small town you live in, and/or a grassroots approach from concerned people in your community. I’d be happy to talk and brainstorm with you what approaches feel best to you.

  3. …find out if there’s a female cop in your town, appeal to her.

    Colette responded on SSH, saying she spoke to a female cop but she was dismissive towards her as well. This is insane! Why are these cops ignoring her?

  4. Strongly encourage you to take the issue, esp. the unhelpful and argumentative nature of the police officer, to your local elected officials, whomever they may be, dependent upon the governmental structure for your area (county supervisors, town commission, etc.). Write a courteous yet firm letter to them. CC the top commander of the force. Appear at the next public meeting, and repeat your concerns during the public comment section. You will probably see action begin to occur. These are your elected officials, and your police department. They are paid by you, and employed by you. Reach out to your fellow victim; see if she will join you in your letter and public comments. If you want to take it further, write up a flyer, and place it into every mail slot near the trail, with quick info on whom to email with their concerns.

  5. Ideas…

    My first thought was to push him hard off his bike when he goes past you. Is he close enough to do that? Yeah sure, it’s not right, but F him – I’d like him to see break a leg!

    Ok, so if that doesn’t appeal… how about carrying a small recorder and whipping it out when you see the creep come toward you on the bike? Say “go ahead, I’m recording what you’re about to say”. Oh, and take a photo. That would be you “fighting” back without physically harming him (I still like that option though). It will be unsettling for him AND provide evidence if law enforcement ever decides to treat you seriously…

  6. Taking a picture is an excellent idea! I would even make flyers “This man likes to sexually harass women, his name is ____.”

    I had 2 grown men (in their 50s) scream “B_tch” at me and threaten to KILL ME at a metro stop because they didn’t like the way I was parked (I was picking up my husband who had a broken shoulder). My husband and I followed their car as much as we could, and took down their license plate. Instead of hopping out of the car and going ballistic on them, we called the police and told them what happened. A police man came to our house and pretty much dismissed our complaint (why bother showing up?). He even gave my husband “the hand” which was so rude.

    I contacted the lieutenant of our police department via the county’s web site and we set up a meeting to talk about what happened (the police officer being rude and dismissive about the verbal assault/threat). At the time, I was also a victim of theft (2 kids stole my mountain bikes and I TRACKED THEM DOWN singlehandedly because the police did not care). The lieutenant was great, and we met in person for about 30 minutes to talk about “what could’ve been done” and “what will happen now”. He was genuinely concerned about the lack of responsiveness from certain officers. I think it’s really important to go up the chain of command if necessary, and to continue to have faith in the law enforcement system.

  7. Pingback: What to do? Part Two « Holla Back DC!

  8. Pingback: What to do? Part Three « Holla Back DC!

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