I had a scary situation happen to me recently and I wonder if you could give me any suggestions. I was walking home the other night when a guy started following me and making a bunch of really inappropriate comments. He continued to follow me for a while, and I’ve actually seen him a couple of times since then. Is there any kind of legal action I can take?
—Street Harassed in Brooklyn
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot that you can do in legal terms as far as verbal harassment goes. There are some vague laws on the books, but they are rarely enforced. If he is following you repeatedly, however, you may want to report it to the police, as it could fall under the stalking laws that are in effect in New York. This is an especially challenging situation emotionally, because if you walk on you feel victimized, and if you yell back, you feel angry. Either way it’s far from an ideal situation. You could even be charged with crimes yourself if you fight back (take “the Lesbian 7” for example, the group of NYC black women who were arrested for defending themselves from harassment in August 2006).
Only you know if the situation warrants serious intervention. Trust your instincts, err on the side of caution and don’t be afraid to ask for help from the police and from others around you.
If you feel the situation doesn’t require an urgent response, another resource is hollabacknyc.com, a brilliant local blog where you can post pictures of your attackers, which accomplishes two things. First, it gives women an empowered response to street harassment, and second, it creates extra awareness around the issue. Posting pictures to the blog is a powerful act that could be very healing for you, and at the same time it helps other women dealing with the same issues. They get over 1,500 hits a day and have over 15 different satellite sites across the world.
So, next time you are harassed, don’t just walk on: hollaback!
*This article is dedicated to Sarah in Brooklyn and all the women in our community who deal with this issue daily.
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Special thanks to Gina M. Bonica, Esq. and Audrey A. Mars, paralegal, at Kurland & Associates who competently and compassionately help to handle our adoption proceedings.
*This column is not a consultation with an attorney and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with legal issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own attorney.