“You don’t have to tell anybody.”

Photo by takomabibelot via flickr

I was out and around the city doing errands for my boss and had two experiences that seemed to totally cancel each other out.

The first occurred on the Chinatown metro. I was getting off the red line to transfer to the green line when I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn around and a young man (about 16 or so) was next to me.
“Excuse me, ma’am. I’m not trying to talk to you or anything, I just wanted to say that you have one of the cutest outfits on that I’ve seen all day.”
I understand that some people would consider this harrassment, but he was polite and I felt no hostility. His preface assured me that his words were nothing other than a harmless compliment. His comment left me beaming and feeling slightly more optimistic about street experiences.

An hour later and I felt worse than before. I was walking on the 14th street and approaching U when an older man stops me. Thinking he might need directions or something, I realize I am wrong when he asks my name. When I tell him he says,” Can I ask you something, J****?”
“What?”
“You don’t have to tell anybody, but can I have sex with you sometime?”
I firmly said, “No, sorry” and walk on.

My biggest regret? I said, “sorry”! I wasn’t the slightest bit sorry. And yet as I walked on I still wondered if I was fair in being so offended. He was nonviolent and technically asked consent for something. But I know in my gut that this still wasn’t right. It’s sad that victims (no matter what the situation) still need to rationalize the situation for themselves.

Submitted by JS on 11/20/2010

Location: Chinatown Metro and U Street & 14th

Time of Harassment: Day Time (9:30A-3:30P)

Do you have a personal experience with gender-based public sexual harassment or assault you would like to submit? Just click here and fill out the online submission form. All submissions are posted anonymously unless you specify.

2 responses to ““You don’t have to tell anybody.”

  1. Socially acceptable things to ask consent for, if done in a non-aggressive, non-hostile way:
    – “Do you mind if I sit next to you?”
    – “Can I ask you how to get to the nearest Metro stop?”

    Socially unacceptable things to ask consent of someone you’ve just met on the street, regardless of tone or demeanor:
    – “Can I have sex with you sometime?”

  2. You were a lot nicer to that old guy than I would have been … you were certainly in the right to be offended. He was objectifying and harassing you, even if he was being “polite”.

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