Top Model Question

This happened about a week ago, but it still bothers me that I didn’t do anything. Actually, I was so caught off guard that I didn’t know what to do.

Anyway, it’s around 5:30pm and I’m making my way to Union Station, as usual. As I make my way down the escalator I hear a bunch of commotion. I hear, “You’re so beautiful! Are you on Top Model? You’ve gotta be on Top Model!” At the end of the escalator, near the fare machines, these three men, INCLUDING A METRO EMPLOYEE, are surrounding this young woman and I can tell she’s NOT flattered by the attention. In fact, I can see she’s mortified. They’re surrounding her asking all this questions when one of these “gentlemen” whips out his camera and asks to take her picture! Not a picture with her, but a picture OF her, like she’s a damn exhibit or something. The man in question says, “I just have to get a picture of how beautiful you are so I can tell my friends I met you.”

The young woman mumbles a “thank you” to their “compliments” and then turns away to put money on her SmarTrip card. She never gives him permission to photograph her. However, he proceeds to take her picture anyway, even with her back turned. Ugh!!!!

At this point, I’m mortified and angry for her, because I don’t know what to do, given that A METRO EMPLOYEE WHO IS USUALLY STATIONED AT UNION STATION is a part of this foolishness.

I told a friend about it later, and she said the best way to help the young lady would be to walk up to her and engage her in conversation and try to get her out of the vicinity and to a safe space. As a social worker, she’s seen incidents in which someone will say to the attacker, “What the hell are you doing! Leave her alone!” The attacker will then respond and say something like, “Mind your own business!” and take the situation to the next level. She said in her experience, the best thing to do is go up to the victim and say “Hey, you need some help? Come take a walk with me.”

I’m pissed because this isn’t the first time I’ve seen men act like they are entitled to your presence. I’ve seen plenty of men take pictures or film women they don’t know and then pass said footage around like it’s no big deal. I want to know what to do the next time this happens (and it WILL happen) and how I can help someone who’s being violated?

Submitted by T on 4/5/10

Location: Union Station Metro

9 responses to “Top Model Question

  1. As a woman who has been in this situation, I am extremely grateful when someone does what you suggest.

    To make it much more “real” if you’re worried about being the knight in shining armor, make up some name and run up to her, like you know her. Usually, this is enough to deter whoever it is who is harassing her.

    You can usually then explain quitely that you didn’t mean to weird her out you just noticed that she was being harassed and you’d be happy to walk her away from them. 9/10 times, she’ll thank you and take you up on the offer.

  2. Golden Silence

    Until I read the Metro station this happened at, I thought it was Rhode Island Metro Station, because I got the “Work it like a Top Model!” comments when I used to live around there and use that Metro. I guess the Top Model harassment seems to be frequent on that section of the Red Line.

    I suggest you file an online complaint with WMATA, especially since you said one of the culprits was a regular employee there. Granted, a lot of times Metro doesn’t respond to these complaints, but at least that will be some type of action. Also, the next time you witness this happening (and I pray there isn’t a next time), follow your friend’s advice. I think it’s reasonable advice and a great idea!

  3. Take a picture of them being jerks – and then give it exposure – including to WMATA.

  4. The photography part of me would rebel with you a little in that I consider public spaces fair game for taking photos.

    That said, this situation obviously sounds like harassment and should not be tolerated. That a WMATA employee was partaking in it makes it that much worse, and he should be disciplined for it.

  5. I think your social worker friend has the best suggestion I’ve heard. I was in a similar situation last night at the basketball courts at 17th and P NW where a very angry young man sat by the sidewalk after losing basketball to my team and made comments to nearly every woman who went past. I knew without a doubt that confronting him would only provoke him physically (and he was built), so I didn’t do anything.

    I’m always looking for ideas in how to handle this sort of situation.

  6. Thanks for all of your insight! I’ll definitely take your and my friend’s advice in the future.

  7. Just wanted to add that the specific words/tone you use as well as your physical appearance can contribute to the snap judgment the person being harassed makes when considering how to get herself or himself out of the situation. Especially if you resemble the harassers you could add to the terror (for example, stepping closer to a person and saying “come take a walk with me” can still seem threatening). If you feel safe in the situation a brief interruption such as asking harasser for directions could help.

  8. If you remember the exact time this took place, I’ll bet there are security cameras pointed right at those vending machines. Report this to Metro and/or the police.

  9. Pingback: Weekly Round Up April 11, 2010 « Stop Street Harassment!

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