Street Harassment as a Female Student


In the late evening hours of Sept. 12, CHS junior Sylva Das met up with a friend she had not seen in a while. In light of the current pandemic, Das’ parents instructed the two to remain outside, and the girls decided to take a short walk. 

Das and her friend ended up at Forsythe Middle School, where they sat down to catch up. However, not ten minutes after they arrived, they spotted a black SUV that slowly pulled up in front of the building. When the car lingered, parked idly by the curb, both girls became increasingly uncomfortable and decided to return home. However, the vehicle pulled away, and they were able to return to their conversation. 

About five minutes later, headlights suddenly appeared behind them, and, realizing that it was the same car and that two college-aged men were behind the wheel, the girls got up and started running toward their neighborhood. The car followed them through the residential streets until they ran into one of their neighbor’s backyards. 

It then turned around and pulled away, but ever since that incident, Das has felt uncomfortable walking by herself at night, especially since there are not always people around to help.

 “It was so scary to think about what would’ve happened if the people in [my friend’s] neighbor’s house hadn’t come outside, or if [the men in the car] would’ve caught up to us,” Das said.

Unfortunately, this type of experience is very common. According to a study conducted by Stop Street Harassment, approximately three in every four women have been verbally harassed, and 66% of these occurrences took place in a public location. 

The implications of this finding are further evidenced by a Gallup News study, showing that about 89% of men reported feeling safe walking alone at night, compared to only 62% of women. This 27% gap provides context for stories like Das’.

Due to these common occurrences of public harassment, many women take precautions to protect themselves when they leave the house; this can include carrying pepper spray or another device meant for self-defense, sticking with bigger groups, sending one’s location to a friend or trying to appear unapproachable. Several CHS students report taking protective measures of this type. 

Junior Madison Bell is one such student, whose fear of men hiding beneath parked cars has caused her to avoid driving alone at night.

“Whenever I get up to my car at night, I hop in from four feet away,” Bell said. “I usually try to keep my head up to make me look more confident and less approachable and try to have my AirPods in, even if I’m not listening to anything. I always have my phone in my hand so I can have someone on speed dial.” 

Another CHS student who has faced public harassment, senior Vanessa Farkas reflects on a specific incident that occurred while walking downtown and how it has changed the way she presents herself to the world:

 “He was blocking my path and made a lunge after me, and I just ran, because I was like, ‘Oh my goodness: I’m in danger,’” Farkas said. 

This experience introduced a deeply rooted fear of male harassment in Farkas. In the years following the incident, she reveals that she has consciously taken steps to appear more physically intimidating, even though this new persona is not an accurate reflection of her personality. 

“I think I do want to look very menacing, but I think I also am very much the opposite of that,” Farkas said. “I feel like [my image] is kind of just a facade. In reality, I’m very open to people.”

When you consider the countless women who feel they must take precautions each time they leave the house, fearing harassment on their way to school or work, one question comes to mind: what can be done? Das proposes a potential response. 

“For middle school, I went to [Rudolf] Steiner [School of Ann Arbor], and they had these self-defense classes for girls that were integrated into the curriculum,” Das said. “It was super empowering because it was all the girls in my class and [the teacher], and we would learn basic self-defense and what to do in certain situations. I think in middle school and high school, if that was incorporated into the curriculum, it would be really helpful.” 

However, though Das is appreciative of her own self-defense education, she is hopeful that society will begin to recognize the irrationality of teaching girls to avoid harassment, rather than teaching men not to harass.

“I just think that two girls should be able to go on walks without feeling like they could be followed, or worse, and that just makes me really mad,” Das said. “I think it’s stupid that we should have to [learn self-defense] because we should just be teaching boys not to follow [us].”