The Sexist

Holla Back DC and the District’s Sexual Harassment Reporting Problem

Holla Back DC—a blog chronicling street harassment in the District–-turns a year old this month. (Make a wish!). One of the reasons that Holla Back has been such a valuable resource over the past year is that it reveals how big of a reporting problem we have in D.C.

Since last March, Holla Back has recorded hundreds of instances of sexual harassment and assaults that were never reported to police. Imagine how many more incidents are never reported to Holla Back D.C., either.

This month, Holla Back is taking a look at just how large the gap is between reports to Holla Back and reports to D.C. authorities. Over the past year, Holla Back has received 200 reports of incidents of sexual harassment and assault in the D.C. area. Last week, they crunched the numbers on how many of these self-reports occurred on public transportation. A look back at the year in sexual harassment, as reported to Holla Back:

* 40 reported incidents occurred on the Metro

* 8 reported incidents occurred at a bus stop

* 4 reported incidents happened on a bus

* 3 reported incidents were on a Metro station escalator

* 1 reported incident happened on the Circulator

Of those incidents reported to Hollaback: 32 were verbal harassment; 12 were gropes; 4 were physical assaults; 4 were incidents of stalking; 3 were public masturbation; 1 was upskirting. (Check out the full stats here).

Guess how many of these incidents were reported to authorities?


If you're wondering why so few victims report their public sexual assaults to police, perhaps this next figure will provide a clue. Guess how many of those five reported incidents a positive response?

One (we chronicled her story here).

Holla Back DC analyzes the data better than I could: "These numbers mean that a) public sexual harassment and assault IS occurring on public transportation choices in the DC metro area, b) there are resources to address it, c) but when utilized it doesn’t bear positive results for the victim."

Here's to another year of speaking up; now submit your street harassment experiences to Holla Back DC.

  • Manor

    News flash: all sorts of crime takes place on public transit in DC. There are only about 70 WMATA officers to cover the entire system, and in my 15 years of riding buses in DC I have seen all of two WMATA officers on buses and another four MPD officers (yes, I am quite certain). Verbal and physical assaults, irrespective of gender and sexual harassment, are absolutely the norm. If you need proof, ride any of the Georgia Ave buses every day for a week and I guarantee you you will see plenty of examples. If your skin is white, the incidences will go way, way up. I recognize the particular nastiness of sexual harassment, but its not like its an isolated issue, it simply reflects the culture of denigration and subjugation common to DC. Look at the bright side, my guess is about 40% of DC relationships begin as sexual harassment, noting most DC relationships last as long as coitus (that means sex, you idiots).

  • Stewart

    I understand that everyone has their limit but one of the recent entries on the HollaBackDC site has me scratching my head. A woman claims her beautiful Spring-like day was "ruined" because a couple of guys in a truck yelled "Yo, Gorgeous" at her and had the temerity to keep looking at her too?
    Really? Your day was "ruined" by that? Seriously? No lewd comments, no name calling, no following. "Yo, Gorgeous" is what passes for sexual harassment now? Geesh.

  • LeftSidePositive

    Stewart, I'm glad for you that you've clearly never had to be treated like a piece of meat, and that your appearance is not treated like public property to be commented on and stared at by total strangers. How lucky for you that you don't have your privacy invaded, and how fortunate that you're insulated from common human empathy.

  • Stewart

    Think what you want but I have plenty of empathy. And I have heard some horror stories about male harassment. In my humble opinion, this isn't one of them; it's not even in the same universe. But like I said in my first post, everyone has their limit. I guess the women I know have thicker skins than the woman who wrote this particular piece. Not that that's right or wrong or good or bad, it just is what it is and reasonable minds can and will disagree.

  • LeftSidePositive

    Stewart--because someone got killed today, would that make it okay for me to punch you in the face?? "It's not even in the same universe."

    What's more, there is a LOT of power in being continually reminded by minor slights that add up that you are perceived as less than equal or public property.

    And, no, you don't have a lot of empathy. You think you can brush aside something that was upsetting or frustrating to someone just because you don't think it was important enough.

  • Amanda Hess


    People do have different limits, triggers, and past life experiences. These things all affect what level and type of harassment they can handle before they speak up about it. Perhaps you weren't previously aware that some women can feel threatened by something as simple as "Yo, gorgeous" followed by aggressive staring and open laughter. I don't have trouble understanding this reaction; I experience this all the time. But you were left scratching your head.

    Well, the great thing about Holla Back D.C. is that now you know that some women are upset by this, and that they do feel harassed by it. So, instead of denying this woman's experience by insinuating that she's too sensitive, why not take this as an opportunity to consider why this behavior might have been perceived as threatening to this woman? Why not consider the ways in which you personally might not fully understand this specific type of threat? Why not ask yourself why your female friends don't discuss this low-level type of harassment with you? Is it because you would dismiss them as overly sensitive?

    About the severity of the harassment: I've heard some horror stories about harassment, too ... and they usually have much more long-lasting effects than just putting a damper on one day in a person's life. That doesn't mean that that one day of stress isn't significant enough for one woman to talk about her experience on a blog.

  • Julia

    @ Stewart

    Agreed, having someone yell "hey gorgeous" out their car window doesn't seem like a big deal. And if it happened to you, you might still not think it was a big deal. But I can't even count the number of times a stranger has yelled out a comment like that AND THEN FOLLOWED ME. Usually when I am alone, in a big city, often at night. So when you hear "hey gorgeous" you might think, 'oh a complement'. but when I hear the same line, I think, "oh I hope I don't get followed home today." And trust me, it happens on a quasi-regular basis, even after I explicitly tell the man to stop.

  • gram

    @ Stewart - I agree with you.
    There are real issues that women face, and someone yelling "Yo gorgeous" and giggling just isn't one of them. I know that in this age of everyone's opinion being relevant, I'm supposed to take the middle road and validate her experience, but let's be honest here. These guys called her gorgeous and giggled. Wow. Matter of fact, these men didn't follow her - SHE WENT AFTER THEM, which is kind of awesome, by the way, but clearly suggests that even she didn't view these men as a threat.
    @ Leftside - This is like an African American getting pissed because someone called them black, not nigger and then didn't bother to lynch them.

  • MissT


    "There are real issues that women face, and someone yelling “Yo gorgeous” and giggling just isn’t one of them."

    Uh, yes it is. On the scale of possible incidents of public harassment, it might fall on the less-serious end, but it is symptomatic of a real problem. Try re-reading the comments above yours--seriously, I'm not trying to be condescending by saying this: read them carefully and think about what they're saying. They put the matter very well.

    In light of previous responses, what I'm going to say is only repetition:

    Unwanted, potentially threatening sexualization and objectification, with overt action, by a stranger? Yes, upsetting.

    And good for the girl that this happened to, for not putting up with it!

  • http://deleted je di

    I never understand the argument of "there are worse things that could happen, so why are you talking about ____?" Can you imagine if we all had that attitude towards every injustice? If you were robbed would you not report it because no one got hurt? If someone cut off one of your hands would you thank them for leaving the other?

  • LB

    as a woman, i agree with Stewart. I hate it when women get pissed about men saying "good morning beautiful." when they get in your face or scream filthy things at you, i understand that's really really uncomfortable and I have the experience to back that up. But "hey gorgeous" or "hi beautiful" is kinda funny and definitely not offensive.