Last month in Bust Magazine, Erica W. Smith detailed her most recent experience with street harassment, not by random men, but by the New York City Police Department:
"First, they shouted out to ask if we were okay — fair enough, no harm done. But after we answered and kept walking, they continued trailing us, asking what we were carrying (we’d stopped to buy snacks), telling us to give it to them, and then, when we stopped answering, shouting at us to come over to the police car and get in. After our first answers, we stopped responding and kept walking straight ahead, as quickly as we could, not looking at them, not answering."
Smith said the police then followed her and her friend in their cars for over a block, but maintained their distance. The officers continued to demand the women to approach the cars. Only when the two women turned down a side street did the officers stop their pursuit.
When reporting the incident to the NYPD, everyone who she spoke with acted indifferent. “I don’t understand. It’s not like a crime occurred,” and “And your complaint is?” were some of the comments. One remark, “Usually they aren’t that brazen,” lead Smith to conclude that incidents like this are not uncommon.
What concerns Smith is the amount of attention she received is detracting from the work the police officers should be doing, like catching the rapists in her neighborhood of Brooklyn. In addition, Smith cites that according to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), over 54% of sexual assaults go unreported, and a portion of that is because of the lack of trust in police to take their assault seriously. Intimidating police officers, like the ones Smith encountered, are the root of that skepticism.
Many of the police officers of the NYPD are genuine in their efforts to help people, but it does not aid their cause when men of the same uniform harass women on the street. I am sure the officers would claim they were suspicious of the pair, or maybe they wanted to question the women about activity in the area. But the argument holds little merit when their comments were very vague and the police car ceased pursuit after losing visual contact. Smith and her friend were right to trust their instincts.
So were these men disrespectful because they are men, because they have higher authority in the community, or a combination of both? More women need to speak out against street harassment for us to ever know. While some comments might start as innocent flirtation, a women’s disinterest sometimes causes men to push harder to get a response. In addition to comments, street harassment includes whistling, groping, and flashing. America’s “boys will be boys” mentality has accepted some of this behavior, but men are much better than that. The men we know to be respectful and caring need to hold these impertinent men accountable. And even if these police officers had good intentions, I hope the NYPD has role models in the field that demonstrate how to tactfully approach women.