Earlier this month, a birdwatcher in New York saw a man masturbating in a public park. She took his picture, and he threatened her. Several days later, she encountered him again in the same park, and he assaulted her. He was arrested the next day.
This case is attracting a lot of headlines because it’s a perfect storm of circumstances, illustrating that many of the myths about rape are just that: myths. Her rape happened in the middle of the day in a highly crowded area of the park, not in a dark alley somewhere. Her rape was about an exertion of power and control, not sexuality, as demonstrated by the fact that she was savagely beaten and her camera was stolen. The rapist’s goal was to punish her for daring to document his earlier harassment.
As is too often the case when something like this happens, you will hear people suggest that this woman was attacked because she was too daring, or because she made herself too visible. This is a mistake. She did not bring this on herself. She was attacked because someone chose to attack her.
Action has risks. Inaction also has risks. No one can tell you that there is one best way to respond; we can only offer suggestions.
If you choose to holla back immediately, we have some ideas for how to do that effectively. If you choose to focus on getting away without confrontation, we offer a safe space online to holla back and hold harassers accountable for their behaviour.
You have the right to make your own choices about how you navigate personal risk. And if anyone tries to tell you that you can’t be trusted with your own safety, send them our way. We have some words for them.
Public harassment is a community problem, not an individual one. It deserves a community response. No one should have to deal with it alone. We’ve got your back.