Valerie Aurora on Tracking Street Harassment
social life & social media
Valarie moved to San Francisco when she was 29 and she was not prepared for the city life. She was really freaked out by the trash on the streets, by the way the taxi drivers drove, and how expensive everything was. But the thing that freaked her out the most was street harassment. Street harassment is any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening, or harassing and is motivated by gender or sexual orientation. She was surprised with how many times she was harassed while walking around. To better understand what was going on she started tracking these instance.
I was really freaked out by the trash on the streets, by the way that the taxi drivers drove how expensive everything was. But the thing that freaked me out the most was street harassment.
So street harassment is any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening, or harassing and is motivated by gender or sexual orientation.
So this happens to women and LGBTP people a lot more. Here are some examples. Shouting nice ass, actually grabbing someone’s ass, saying ‘Hey beautiful’, grunting and grabbing your crutch, following someone, or varying and starring. So this stuff happens every day to thousands of women in San Francisco.
Here’s a photo I took of someone harassing me. This is about five seconds after he said ‘Hey beautiful. In case you’re wondering that’s really a compliment.’ Yeah, he got pretty pissed when I tried to record his face while he was doing this perfectly nice action. Something like this happens several times a week.
So I didn’t know about street harassment in 2007 and a lot of people didn’t either. For one thing I drove in a car most of my life until that point, I sold my car when I moved to San Francisco for obvious reasons.
I do know people that have been harassed in their cars, it’s just much more common on the street, or on the bus, hence the street and street harassment. So I started getting everywhere by walking or taking the bus, and suddenly there is this street harassment thing that I had just discovered personally.
So the terrible thing about the street harassment really was that I would tell my friends about it and they would say, ‘Well I’ve never seen that happen’, or ‘It’s just a compliment’ or ‘Are you sure that’s actually happening, I was walking with you.’ So I felt kind kind of like I was going nuts, like a the same time I didn’t want to leave the house because my heartrate would spike like I was giving a talk, I was expecting what was going to happen. I also thought maybe I was crazy.
So, I decided to start logging street harassment. I wrote down the date and the time just on a notebook with a piece of paper because cell phones were terrible at that time. Date, location, description of the harasser, type of harassment and a story.
So here’s my first entry, walking down the street, almost Christmas, 3PM, two teenage boys split around me and as they do that they say, ‘Hey show me your tittie. Show me your ass.’ The other kid was like ‘Ha ha, I’m so embarrassed by you’, but it didn’t stop him.
So I found this surprising thing about logging street harassment. I initially did it to prove it to other people that it was happening. But then it turned out that it really gave me a sense of control and power. It also made me distracted from what was happening and I can step outside of it instead of ‘Oh my god, what am I doing feeling shameful.’ I would think where’s my notebook, where am I right now, what time is it, what am I going to name this particular story!
So the first thing I did I mapped the incidents. You can tell a lot of things about my life at this point in time. I live near the 24th Street Bart station. I occasionally went to Civic Center. My mailbox is in Nary Valley. And I was too afraid to go to 16th Street station. This is a picture of Bart station, and this is a picture of the ELUA Hotel, which I just love and have to take a photo almost every time I go by, and user license agreement.
So logging street harassment taught me that it was much more varied. You know you think of the ‘Hey, nice ass’, but you also get the rich white dude in Nary Valley whose really upset that I won’t stop and give him directions. He followed be down the street, several blocks to make loud passive aggressive statements about how friendly I was, right.
So tracking harassment incidents by type was interesting. You can see that verbal harassment is the most common, and this is like saying something. And there’s also stuff where people aren’t even saying anything; they are just a bunch of very strange things.
Spilt was the most interesting one to me, this is what I called when a group of people walk down the street and they split to walk around you. Initially people are like what’s wrong with you, if you think that’s harassing you’re so over sensitive. But what they’re doing is they’re creating a situation where you can’t physically keep your normal physical space.
A friend of mine told me about this happening to her and as they walk past, they both grabbed her ass at the same time because she couldn’t get away from them. So yeah, logging taught me those things were real.
And here’s harassment by hour of the day, starting at 11AM until 8PM, and in some ways this tells you more about me. I work from home. I get up really late. I take taxis in the evening, I did back then.
It also tells you that street harassment is external to you. I’m wearing the same skirt in the morning and I am in the evening. I’m more likely to get harassed at 5PM, because the street harassers are more likely to be out there to do the harassing.
So what I learned from logging the street harassment is that this is not my fault. The skirt I was wearing did not cause me to be harassed. There’s all these external factors, location, time of day that sort of thing that I really couldn’t control.
It also taught me to start taking action, and this was another attempt to take a photo of someone harassing me, who was so embarrassed about it he turned around and wouldn’t let me take a photo. That was incredibly powerful and it was another part of logging that I stopped doing it after that because it was just so awesome.
Hollaback is a non-profit that is fighting street harassment full time. I just gave them $250, I contribute $100 to their kickstarter. They started two years after I started doing this logging.
They have an app they’ve just launched in New York City that’s basically doing this on a city-wide basis to convince the New York City Government that street harassment is a real problem, because it’s so invisible if you’re not experiencing it yourself.
I think this is awesome. They have lots of great metrics you know, it’s a perfect logging story. So that’s my story, thanks for listening.