The Five Stages of Street Harassment

Five Stages of Street Harassment 2

Guest Blogger: Julie Ma, Communication and Development Officer, The MATCH International Women’s Fund

Shock. Fear. Embarrassment. Frustration. Anger.

When someone loses a person they love, people talk about the five stages of grief that a person goes through. But there are other stages for other experiences and for me, I go through five stages when something happens to me almost every single day. And that’s sexual violence on the streets.

When someone sees me walking down the street, they make assumptions. A small girl equals weak. An easy target. Easy to push around. So that’s what they do.

I live a five minute walk away from my work. And almost every day, within those five minutes, I get harassed. It might be a wolf whistle from a passing car. Or someone following me all the way home, commenting on my body the entire time. Or a group of men jumping out of a car just to make a racist comment and slap my backside. Or someone telling me they’re going to rape me, and then laugh when I start to run. And every time this happens during that five minute walk, I go through my five stages.

Shock. Fear. Embarrassment. Frustration. Anger.

Sometimes I feel like my emotions are misplaced. Some emotions I can’t quite comprehend. Like why do I feel embarrassed right now? But it all comes down to the fact that I have lack of control and lack of power in these situations. And every time this happens, I feel like that person takes a piece of me; a piece that I can’t reclaim.

I can talk all day about the things people have said to me or done to me on the streets. But sadly, my story is not unique. This happens every day in different forms and different degrees of severity, all over the world. I think about the sexual violence stories in the aid industry that have been coming out in the news lately, or the escalating violence in Mexico against women, and know that I am just one in the sea of women who experience sexual violence every day.

Today is the International Day of Non-Violence. But who knows about this day? Because, sadly, for me, there was no difference today than any other day. I walked to work this morning, like I do every day, and the sexual violence didn’t stop. There was no one (not even me), who stood up and said “Hey! Don’t you know it’s the International Day of Non-Violence? You can’t do that today.”

I work for The MATCH International Women’s Fund, and every day we advocate for non-violence. We fund innovative women’s organizations around the world that are fighting for an end to violence against women. When we had our call for proposals, 75% of the proposals we received dealt with violence against women. Let me say that again: seventy-five percent of women’s organizations felt like their most pressing problem was violence. So, what are they doing about it?

Well, they’re boxing, they’re making apps, they’re starting youth groups to talk about rape, and they’re fighting hard for women’s rights. Every second of every day, these women are being resourceful, and bold, and daring. So when I feel weak or scared during those moments on the street, these are the women that I look to, to find my strength again. And when I started to work for The MATCH Fund, my five stages grew to six: shock, fear, embarrassment, frustration, anger, and finally, action.

The last stage of the five stages of grief is supposed to be acceptance. People are supposed to accept and move on. Well, I can tell you one thing: that is most certainly not my last stage, and certainly not the last stage for all the women that The MATCH Fund works with. I will never simply accept violence against women in any of its forms, and I will never stop advocating for the women who fight for an end to violence in Canada, and around the world every day.

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