It was 3pm and I hadn’t left the house. I had already spent £40 on Uber’s that week. I can’t afford another one. I don’t want to get another one. My housemate is out. My boyfriend is at work. I’ve got to leave. It’s been 10 minutes, maybe “The Man” isn’t there today. I walk fast just in case. Pre dial 999 just in case.
I can see the end of the road. He’s there, “The Man”.
“Why you ignoring me again?”
“Don’t you like me?”
“I know where you live”
“I can get you to like me, if you know what I mean”
“Hey miss if you don’t talk to me I will find you”
Walk. Walk. Just fucking walk Zoe. I was too embarrassed to call 999. It’s not that serious right? I get to the library. I call 111 and report it. I describe “The Man”. Tell them the threats he made. They say to call 999 if it happens again. I cry. I study. I get an Uber home.
The next day I leave at 9am with my male flatmatƒe. ”The Man” is across the street harassing another woman. This is my chance. I call 999. I’m talking to the lady she says they will be there soon. He hears. “The Man” comes running over. My flatmate does nothing.
“The Man” says he’s gonna rape me. He’s says he’s gonna kill me. I don’t know if he’s got a weapon. I start to run. He runs after. He’s calling me a cunt. “The Man” is telling me how he is going to cut me, rape me then dump me in a bin centimetres from my face. I get into Sainsbury’s and I run straight up to the security guard and scream. ”The Man” follows me in, shouts to the whole store and then leaves. My flatmate appears. I cry.
The police come. I report it. They tell me not to call 999 again- this wasn’t and isn’t an emergency. They say they recognise “The Man” and this is isn’t the first time. They give me a case number. I never hear anything.
The majority of minorities have had their own degree of experience with “The Man”. I know this because after that particular experience I started an Instagram account @cutecatcalls, a project dedicated to retelling individuals stories and experiences of street and public harassment anonymously through illustration. From the 200 submissions I’ve read, I’ve only read one story where the harasser wasn’t male.
When I shared my story with friends, family and loved ones. They were shocked. That’s just a one-off right? It’s because you were in this area. It’s because it was this time. It’s because you were wearing this. No, it is not. Street harassment happens to 65% of all women with 90% of UK women experiencing it for the first time in puberty. It is not circumstantial.
If you don’t believe statistics believe stories. Stories from 8-year-olds to 50-year-olds that happen in cities and countrysides, in the day time or at night time, in hot or cold weather, anywhere in the world. Street harassment is one of societies dirty secrets that have been accepted as part of growing up as a minority for far too long, and with @cutecatcalls I’m looking to expose that secret.
Catcalling is a form of street or public harassment that consists of unwanted and unsolicited comments, gestures or attention that can take many forms. In short is a form of action or speech that makes the victim feel unsafe and vulnerable that normally centre around shame, objectification or sexualisation. Equally, there are many misconceptions about catcalling because of the lack of discussion about it, the most popular misconceptions being…
- Catcalling is a compliment.
- Catcalling is part of a night out/walking on the street/being a minority.
- Catcalling only happens when you’re alone.
- Catcalling doesn’t happen in front of friends, SO or family.
- Catcalling only happens to women.
- Catcalling is only a whistle, it’s not threatening.
- Catcalling is only by strangers.
- Catcalling doesn’t lead on to any physical of sexual harassment.
Street harassment is felt by LGBTQ+ people, people of colour, disabled people, children and even the elderly, all experiencing their own degrees of terrifying street harassment daily. Yes, daily.
By illustrating people’s stories, I hope to give ownership to those individuals over what happened to them. Give their experience validation. It did fucking happen and they are allowed to feel whatever they want about it. Equally, people who don’t submit stories, I hope the account spreads the message that they are supported, heard and believed- something I wish I had that day I walked to university.
Too long have we lived with street harassment being boxed in as builders giving us wolf whistles. These stories paint exactly the ugly and terrifying picture of what street harassment really is and I will continue to draw them until not only the attitude towards street harassment has changed, but the law and the education around it has too.
To submit a story and contribute to the continuing project, DM @cutecatcalls on instagram or drop an email at email@example.com about your experience with street harassment or catcalling.