Volume 76, Number 48 | April 25 - May1, 2007

Latosha Belton updating the Sisters in Strength Web site.

Young women seek ways to combat street harassment

By Brooke Edwards

Virtually every female in the city has experienced street harassment, no matter her age, ethnicity, size or the way she’s dressed.

Often it’s just annoying, when it’s a comment in passing or the stereotypical catcalls from construction sites. But there are also times when it becomes offensive, threatening and a form of sexual assault.

“We have girls as young as 8 or 9 years old who say they are afraid to walk by this corner or down that street because they’ve had inappropriate things said to them and they’ve been followed or even touched by these men,” said Mandy Van Deven, director of community organizing for Girls for Gender Equity, a Brooklyn-based education and mentoring program. “This issue consistently comes up every time we ask girls about things they are struggling with.”

In response, Girls for Gender Equity — with the help of 10 teenage interns from one of their subprograms, Sisters in Strength — has organized a summit on street harassment. At the event, they plan to speak out about this unwanted behavior that they say makes them nervous to walk alone, and strategize on how women and men, as well, can begin to work toward safe streets for everyone.

The summit will be Sat., May 5, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at 145 Stanton St., in the Grand St. Settlement Beacon Center at Marta Valle Secondary School. This is a central location, and there will be girls attending from across the boroughs, Van Deven said.

The summit is a free public event for men, women, boys and girls of all ages.

“Boys and men are definitely encouraged to attend,” Van Deven said. “We feel that they need to be a part of the solution.”

“A lot of the men that we talk to feel that we want this attention and that it’s a compliment and we are trying to tell them that we don’t,” said Latosha Belton, a senior from Paul Robeson High School who is one of the Sisters in Strength interns.

At the summit, workshops will discuss strategies for ending street harassment; how women can respond to street harassment safely; how street harassment affects the gay, lesbian and transgender population; and how men can be allies to victims of harassment.

The event will also include a screening of a short film on harassment created by the Sisters in Strength teens and the 1998 documentary “War Zone,” directed by Maggie Hadleigh-West.

“In the documentary ‘War Zone,’ one man tells the director that her film won’t mean anything, but I think he’s wrong,” said Ashley Lewis, 16, who helped organize the summit. “Sisters in Strength organizing this event proves he’s wrong. And we’re not going to listen to anyone who says we can’t make change because that film changed me, and our event will touch someone.”

In addition to gaining strategies for dealing with harassment, everyone who attends will receive a gift bag with items from event sponsors, which include Carly Couture, Samy Salon and Lifeway Foods.

Those interested in attending the Street Harassment Summit can visit myspace.com/sistersinstrength or e-mail sisters@ggenyc.org for more information and to R.S.V.P., which is encouraged but not required.

The summit will kick off Sisters in Strength’s anti-street harassment poster campaign. The young women hope to display their poster in subway and bus stations, and will be taking them around to schools and businesses to discourage men from participating in this behavior, and to let women and girls know that they have rights.

“I’ve personally had a brick thrown at me because I ignored a guy that was trying to talk to me,” Belton, 17, said. “I’ve also been followed by a guy who was talking to me, and I had to divert my way home and try to get away from him.

“This is an issue we face more than we’d like to admit.”


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