In which I confront a street harasser and it goes a bit wrong

I just waited 50 minutes for a 208 bus before giving up and coming home (whole other TfL rant), but while I was waiting at the bus stop I did something… Was it stupid? I don’t think in principle it was stupid. It just ended up being slightly unfortunate.

At around 35 minutes into my bus wait I noticed a man, maybe in his 50s, start approaching women in the street asking for a cigarette or a light or something (he already had a lit, half-smoked cigarette in his hand). And when I say ‘asking’, I mean lurching at them, getting up very close, with a look of glee that wasn’t, on closer inspection, all that gleeful but actually rather malicious. Then he approached two young women (16, 17) and freaked them out so badly that they ran off.

He ignored a bus that pulled up until he saw that a woman had got on, at which point he dived through the exit doors and started shouting at her. He was ushered off, then spotted a pretty blonde woman sitting by a window and started banging, with the full force of his forearm, on the window and didn’t stop until the bus drove off.

He didn’t approach me. I was watching him the whole time with a scowl on my face, hopefully projecting a vibe of ‘come near me sunshine and it will end badly for you’. I don’t get much street harassment; the occasional yell out of a van, something stupid mumbled on a street. I get far less since I dyed my hair purple than I did when I was blonde; it upsets me a little that the main reason I will never go blonde again (which would be far easier for me to manage, what with my rapidly greying hair) is because I don’t want to attract wankers.

The man wandered away a bit. The two young women came back. He saw them and retraced his steps, leering. Oh, that’s it, I thought. So, channeling Hollaback, I shouted:

No, get out of here before I call the police. You don’t get to harass women in the street. Go on, leave.

His face turned to pure fury. He advanced on me screaming – how dare I talk to him like that? Who the fuck did I think I was? At this point I yelled at him to go on, fuck off, get out of here.

He walked right up to me, yelling in my face

You should be grateful you’re a woman, I’m a man beater not a woman beater! If you were a man I’d fucking beat you! You don’t have the right to talk to me like that!

By this point another woman at the bus stop had come to stand next to me and was murmuring to me ‘he’s a local, I work round here, don’t worry’ and had put her arm between me and him. He stumbled off. The two young women, the woman who intervened and another woman came to check I was OK (I was fine; I’d just stood there glaring at him with my arms folded, but no idea what my face was doing. Red? White?). I felt stupid that by trying to stop other women feeling threatened I’d forced other women to come to my aid. The woman who intervened said he’s well known in that bit of Lewisham High Street and that it’s best if people just ignore him and that the police never do anything (I guess we know how she felt about my outburst) and the other woman, who works in a local school, gave me some background, including that he’s been under the care of mental health services but not any longer. The two young women said he had genuinely scared them so I feel like I did some smidgen of good if I at least got him to piss off.

I also feel a bit stupid for not recognising that this guy was clearly an alcoholic and had problems… No, actually, scratch that. I don’t care what problems he has. Ignoring him and letting him have free rein to harass and scare means that one day he could easily go too far with some poor girl who doesn’t have the nerve or the experience to run into a shop or a bus (and why should anyone have to run away to feel safe?), or maybe it’ll be at night and she’ll be too traumatised to go out again on her own. Yes, fuck it, I’d do that again; in fact, I’d have taken a smack in the face if it meant he could be arrested for assault.

Not sure how to end this post, my heart is still racing a little bit. In a good way. Hmm.

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One response to “In which I confront a street harasser and it goes a bit wrong

  1. JS September 11, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    I think the euphemism is Care in the Community – no doubt we’ll be seeing more of it.
    But on behalf of feisty women everywhere – you did the right thing

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