Street sexual harassment: my first time
‘I was 13 the first time I was harassed on the street.’ Years later, Richa still experiences harassment on the roads but she says that she feels too embarrassed to talk about it.
I used to go for extra math tutoring every afternoon after school and come back home in the evening. There was a shop that I had to pass by to get to my tutor’s house and it was always surrounded by men.
The harassment started one evening with a rude comment. I was walking home when one of them walked up next to me stared at my chest and whispered ‘How much for the lemons?’ He walked back to the shop and everyone there started laughing loudly.
I held my bag tightly against my chest and rushed home in fear, he hadn’t touched me or physically threatened me but I felt terrified. For the first time in my life, I felt ashamed of my body.
I was dreading going for my lessons the next day but my mother wouldn’t let me take even a day off. They were there again, the man who had walked up to me the day before was leering at me and his friends were smirking in the background.
I was rushing past the shop when I felt a sharp sting on my back; he had thrown a small stone at me. He threw another small stone that hit me on my neck and I heard his friends laughing. I was so scared that I started running and I ran all the way to my tutor’s house. I was crying inconsolably when I got there so my tutor called my parents and asked them to come and pick me up.
They asked me what was wrong but I didn’t have the courage to tell them. It was too embarrassing.
There was just no way that I could tell them what that man had said to me or describe the way he had looked at me or how scared I was.
So I told them that I was crying because I had a very bad stomach ache. I don’t know if they believed me but they didn’t ask me any more questions.
The next day I told them I wouldn’t go for tutoring anymore. My parents were furious but after a lot of begging and pleading, they agreed on the condition that I scored well in the half-yearly’s.
So I stopped going for tutoring and I never saw that man again. But I remember that I was scared for days after that and I used to keep looking over my shoulder dreading that he would be there.
I didn’t tell any of my friends about it and after a while, I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t a big deal, after all how damage could one comment and two very small stones do.
But that year through my own experience and the experiences of my friends I realized that it wasn’t just about that one man.
There were many others out there who wanted to push you, leer at you, grab you, pinch you, follow you, laugh at you, abuse you, and make rude signs at you.
Back then I didn’t know what I could do about it. And on the days when something like that happened to me, my only desire was to be invisible.
What was your first experience of street sexual harassment? What would you like to say to the men who do it? And what would you advise a young girl ? Share your thoughts below or join the discussion on Facebook Love Matters Naija and Kenya.