In summer, the British newspaper The Guardian asked readers whether they had experienced street harassment and to send details of it. I didn’t think I had that many experiences, but as I thought about it, memory after vivid memory came back. Not just my experiences, but my friends’ too.
My first experiences of harassment were in Japan. When I was a high-school exchange student, some of the other exchange students got flashed at on the way to school. Another was followed home one day and had to defend herself. She injured her hand.
On a trip after school to Osaka’s Denden Electronics Town, men leered at us and one purposely bumped a friend with his protruding belly.
As an adult in Japan, I was walking home one night when some guys in a car aggressively yelled something at me from across a road. I couldn’t hear them clearly, but the looks on their faces said everything I needed to know, and I ran home as fast as I could.
In New Zealand, my harassment experiences began with guys in cars thinking I couldn’t speak English and greeting me with “Konnichiwa” while I waited to cross the road. I ignored them and felt uncomfortable and worried that I was being rude — after all, they were just trying to be friendly, right?
Then there was the time some guys were having a party on their front lawn. When we ignored their loutish invites, they decided to throw bottles so that they smashed near us. Should we have felt complimented that they wanted us to join them?
In London, I saw and was the target of catcalling at all times of the day, directed at all kinds of women. In Phuket, Thailand, I had to endure kissing sounds from complete strangers as I tried to walk around taking photos.
A visit to the Australian island of Tasmania with a female friend was the worst. Again, guys in cars kept driving past and yelling at us as we walked. This happened so much that we wanted to just stay indoors on our holiday.
These are not pleasant experiences to relive. So it pained me to see a woman get torn to pieces when she testified in the U.S. Senate about her alleged assault by then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when they were both high school students. As with many accused men, he said he should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Yet women who talk about harassment and abuse are immediately judged to be lying. Anyone who accuses someone of this — as Christine Blasey Ford did — does so at incredible cost.
When I share my experiences, people sometimes say, “I can’t believe that!” But I think it’s time that we balance giving the accused the benefit of the doubt with giving victims the benefit of our belief. (Samantha Loong)