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Don't "Hi, 'Teh" Me: Street-Level Harassment and How to Deal with It

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Let me share with you a personal story. A couple of years back, I worked as a copy editor for a marketing company in Quezon City. It was a demanding job that required me to work long hours, and my shift usually started at 11 PM or ended at around 9 or 10 PM.
One time, at around 9:40 PM, as I was making my way to the jeepney station in Cubao, a guy came walking towards me. When he was close enough, he leaned in so his face was near mine, and whispered, “Sipsipin ko yan.” It was raining when I left the office, so I was bundled in several layers of clothing. I had on a dress, a cotton jacket, and a knee-length fleece coat on top of everything. I was confused–why did that happen when I was fairly covered? I froze on the sidewalk in a mixture of shock, disappointment, and disgust.
It was not the first time something like that happened to me. I was almost picked up by a man in a car who kept calling me his “beh” and “ma,” if only I didn’t have the presence of mind to approach another guy and ask for help. Once, a teenage boy who sat across me in a jeepney jacked off while staring me down– I decided to alight, but he followed me until I was forced to run.
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What is street level harassment?

Street-level harassment refers to unwanted comments, gestures, and actions aimed at a woman in a public space. Street-level harassment comes in many forms.
On a “light” level, it involves wolf-whistling, catcalling, hounding a woman for her number, or publicly humiliating a woman by referring to her using words with dirty connotations or implications. “Severe” violations include public masturbation, stalking, and offensive gestures. Visual harassment for sexual gratification, while deliberately touching or brushing up against the person’s body is also severe harassment. So is the introduction of any object into the person’s genitalia, anus, or mouth without consent.
It is street-level harassment when a man you have never before seen calls you his “baby, asawa, beh, sweetheart, or ma.” It is street-level harassment when a stranger touches your leg or leans against you in a public transport to graze your bare skin. It is also street-level harassment when a random bystander greets you with “Hi, Teh” or announces to his peers “hatid ko lang to, (I’ll just walk her home)” just as you pass by.
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What can you do when faced with street harassment?

If you live in Quezon City, you may file a complaint with the woman’s desk in the nearest police station, per the Gender and Development Ordinance. This ordinance, which was passed just this month, aims to reduce street-level harassment among women by imposing jail time and fines ranging from P1,000 to P5,000 on offenders, depending on the gravity of the act.
But what about those who live outside Quezon City? Here are some things to remember when faced with harassment:

  1. Let the offender know that what he’s doing is unacceptable.

It is easy to become paralyzed with fear when someone acts inappropriately toward you, but in times like this, you need to be even more aware of your surroundings. The situation might end there, or it may escalate, either way, it pays to be prepared.
First, assess your safety. If you’re certain the situation won’t escalate, confront the person and tell them their behavior is unacceptable. Look into the person’s eyes and tell them there will be consequences if it persists. If you don’t feel comfortable about speaking up, move to a safe place (well-lit, plenty of people) and then ask for help.

  1. Report the act immediately.

Alert the authorities of your experience immediately. Find an officer, an attendant, or the security, or file a report with the police. This is particularly important if you experienced a serious form of harassment.

  1. Document your experience.

If possible, document your experience to back up your claims. There are videos making rounds on social media showing a guy that was apparently snapping a video of the girl sitting in front of him in a public transport. Quick to act, the girl also caught the deed on cam and posted the video on Facebook. If you can keep a journal, snap a photo, or take a video, keep it and present it to the authorities when you file a complaint.
In some cases, the cat calling and whistling may turn into touching, grabbing, or any form of physical coercion. When you are in an unsafe area, palm a key, a pin, a pen, or anything you can use as a makeshift weapon. These may not immobilize your offender for long, but counter attacking when the attacker least expects it can buy you some time to ask for help.
Invest in a pepper spray, and keep it inside your bag at all times. Carry a whistle that you can use to draw attention to yourself and get people to notice that something wrong is going on. It also highly advisable to enroll yourself in martial arts or self-defense lessons.
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