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A local college student was shot in the ankle over the weekend after she refused to give her phone number to a guy on the street. The student was leaving a party with a group of friends on early Sunday morning when the man shot her for rebuffing his sexual harassment. As she told Fox 5:
He told my cousin that he was gonna shoot at us if i didn’t give him my number, and then he started shooting . . . I thought somebody kicked me in my leg, like, it was a lot of us running, so I thought somebody kicked me. I didn’t know it was a gunshot.
The bullet is still lodged in her ankle.
Women who are harassed on the street have two options:
1. Be nice. Do what they want. Laugh nervously at their jokes. Surrender your phone number. Endure an increasing amount of sexual harassment. Get labeled a tease when you eventually turn down a date / refuse sex / don’t answer the phone call / otherwise fail to please the stranger who is harassing you.
2. Be dismissive. Ignore the stranger’s advances. Refuse to surrender your phone number. Tell him you’re not interested. Endure an increasing amount of vitriol for turning the guy down. Get labeled a bitch immediately.
Which path do you choose? The college student chose to be dismissive; she got shot. But remember what can happen to you when you choose to be nice: After being stalked and then cornered in an empty Metro parking garage early in the morning, Emily Ruskowski eventually agreed to give the man her phone number. Then he groped her breast and attempted to enter her car.
The bitch-or-tease decision is made necessary by the pervasiveness of casual street harassment that can quickly escalate into a serious threat. I would talk about how easily unwanted sexual advances can turn into angry, violent advances, but in reality, the two scenarios are often indistinguishable from one another. When a man demands the phone number of a woman who is obviously uninterested in him, or when he propositions a lesbian couple that is obviously uninterested in him, or when he reaches out to grope a woman who is obviously uninterested in him, he is just as threatening as the man who intimidates a person into surrendering her wallet, or screams homophobic slurs at a lesbian couple, or exerts physical violence over his victim.
The difference is that the first category of advances is explained away as innocent consequences of a runaway libido and the victims’ mixed messages; the second category is recognized as unacceptable violence. Sexual harassment is harassment; sexual assault is assault. If you don’t want to contribute to a culture of street harassment the moves a man to shoot a woman who won’t go out with him, then don’t cat-call, don’t ogle, don’t ask for a number, don’t grab, and don’t follow. Stop tasking women with the potentially dangerous decision of how to let a guy down easy.