If You Asked Me… Young Girl Harassed in Public: How to Handle It?

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SECTION 1, Continued:

God Is Great, Beer Is Good, and People Are Crazy

14.

My 11-year-old daughter is getting stares when we go out in public. What should I do?

She wears shorts and bright colors. She refuses to wear black, dark gray, or dark blue. When it gets cold, she wears an oversized green hoodie.

Here’s my take on this, as a woman who was SO relieved to hit the age of 40 and have the ugly stares and the lewd catcalls come to an end:

You can go on all you want about how women should be able to wear whatever they want in public (even flimsy knit booty shorts with “Property of the GDU Athletic Department” stamped across the backside) and look however they want and go wherever they please without harassment. That’s all very nice, but the reality is there will always be men who WILL harass women and girls, and there will always be predators who give away what they’re thinking by the way they stare and the remarks they make.

If she’s bothered by this behavior—and most normal women are, because at best it is intrusive and embarrassing, at worst it can presage an assault—then you need to teach her how to protect herself. That does not entail fantasy martial arts scenarios in which she is going to beat back a predator like Xena Warrior Queen. Good luck with that.

It entails keeping your wits about you at all times. As you’re walking around, know where there’s a crowded store or restaurant you can dart into. Be confident enough to walk up to a strange but reasonably safe-looking man and say “someone is following me—would you mind if I walk with you until we get to (fill in the blank).” Train yourself to yell “FIRE,” not “POLICE” or “HELP” if assaulted or threatened: people will always come out to watch your house burn down, but most of them don’t want to involve themselves in a violent confrontation. Do not wear revealing clothes (it appears your young woman doesn’t . . . but just in case, advise her). As you’re driving, know where the nearest police station, fire station, or hospital emergency room is and if pursued, don’t be shy about driving up to the door and leaning on the horn. Lock your car doors, and keep the doors and windows in your home locked. If your living circumstances make it possible, keep a large dog and take it for a doggy-walk whenever you go places on foot.

Does that limit her freedom? Darn right it does. But everybody’s freedom is limited. You could argue that disallowing covetous gazes and lewd remarks limits men’s freedom. It’s a commonsense trade-off you make for your safety.

I speak as the escapee of three attempted rapes, two home invasions, and an attempted carjacking. The best way to cut this kind of behavior short is to keep alert, always have an escape plan, and avoid getting into risky situations in the first place.

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