My Two Cents: An Unwelcome Rite of Passage

October 9, 2013

Susan Hines

BY SUSAN HINES — One of the most enjoyable aspects of life in Hyattsville is the city’s commitment to and celebration of walkability. Yet our “World within Walking Distance” is compromised when women and girls can’t travel those streets without being victimized by unwanted attention and the fear it inspires.

As adults we tend to forget about street harassment until our daughters experience it.  When our teenagers come home with stories of comments, long stares and yucky noises aimed at them, and of cars slowing down as they pass on the street, we remember. And like our girls, we feel angry and powerless to stop it.

We got used to it and, unfortunately they do, too. My 19-year old daughter already tells me, “I don’t even know how often it happens now, I’m so used to it.” But this summer my 15-year old was asking me for rides to the PG Pool or the West Hyattsville Metro to avoid the “creepers” she encounters as she walks down 40th Place to Hamilton to reach these destinations.

Last spring, as I walked home from the Metro clad in the uniform of business (no protection there, apparently) I was passed repeatedly by a man driving a large black pickup truck. I avoided his stares.  The final time he circled round,  I memorized his license number, and ran to the house so he wouldn’t see where I lived.  I wrote the number down, but I didn’t call the police. Should I have?

Recently, I called the Hyattsville station and spoke to Sgt. Chris Purvis to find out if there are best practices in dealing with street harassment.  He was refreshingly honest, admitting, for example, that he had never heard the term “street harassment.” But he knew what I meant by it — catcalls, whistles, etc.  When I related  stories I’ve heard from local girls and their mothers, his concern was obvious and he encouraged citizens to report street harassment to the police.

“If someone in Hyattsville doesn’t feel safe, that is a quality of life issue and the Hyattsville police department is committed to protecting quality of life in our city,” Purvis said.

What follows are some strategies Purvis shared with me for dealing with street harassment:

  • Ignore the harasser — don’t engage
  • Change your behavior: Walk faster, change direction, take a different route if a safer alternative is available.
  • Travel in groups
  • Carry your phone
  • Be the best witness possible: Use your phone to record a description of the harasser and the vehicle; taking a photo with your phone is fine as long as you can perform the action subtly.
  • Let the police know.  Call the non-emergency number (301.985.5060) and report.

Want to learn more? Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS) is a local group that encourages women to post their harassment stories to the CASS blog. The CASS website, www.collectiveactiondc.org, also features an interactive Google map that tracks incidents of street harassment and allows for monitoring of street harassment through the D.C. region.  Hyattsville is on that map.

Rather than encouraging passive acceptance of this type of bullying — and that is exactly what it is — we can speak up via this online forum. Talk to your daughters and let the reporting and posting begin.

Susan Hines has lived in the Riverdale Park-Hyattsville corridor for 17 years.