Dear PoPville – Advice on Dealing with Street Harassment

Photo by PoPville flickr user nevermindtheend

“Dear PoPville,

This weekend I heard about something that happened to a friend of mine a few weeks back. He was exiting Coffy Cafe (14th street and Park rd) at about 8 pm on a Friday night and trying to catch a cab when three teenagers blocked his way and started asking him for bus fare (he couldn’t quite make out what they said but thinks it was something about a bus fare). When he ignored them and tried to move on, they kept blocking him and verbally threatening him. My friend then turned back and went back inside the coffee shop, and they followed him inside. He ordered a cab on his phone from inside the coffee shop, and the teens hanged around the coffee shop for a few minutes and left.

I’m not really sure what the goal was here on their part, and I know harassment happens, but what surprised/alarmed me personally about this is that it happened in the middle of a busy street. I’m new to DC and I try to be aware of my surroundings and avoid secluded areas at night but I’m wondering what to do if harassed like this in the middle of a busy place.”

76 Comment

  • Act crazy! The problem is they see you as week and if you get all hood on their asses, they will back off.

  • “I’m not really sure what the goal was here on their part”
    To get some money from your friend. Kids often come up to me and say “Hey, give me some money.” I usually look right at them and tell them no and keep walking. Sometimes they will harass you a bit or holler at you, but that’s just part of their shakedown scheme. It’s not exactly robbery, since they don’t use a weapon or initiate a physical confrontation. But it’s to intimidate you to cough up a couple bucks in order to extricate yourself from the situation.
    “I’m wondering what to do if harassed like this in the middle of a busy place.”
    Do exactly what your friend did. Do not escalate the situation and seek help from a nearby public business or pedestrian. Your friend was smart.

    • Sounds exactly like robbery. See the part about “putting in fear”:
      Code of the District of Columbia § 22-2801. Robbery.
      Whoever by force or violence, whether against resistance or by sudden or stealthy seizure or snatching, or by putting in fear, shall take from the person or immediate actual possession of another anything of value, is guilty of robbery, and any person convicted thereof shall suffer imprisonment for not less than 2 years nor more than 15 years. In addition to any other penalty provided under this section, a person may be fined an amount not more than the amount set forth in § 22-3571.01.

      • This, except that they are kids which means that they are free to do whatever they please with no risk of punishment by the law.

        • On a busy Friday afternoon in Chinatown a few weeks ago, a group of middle school-aged children were throwing water and empty bottles at me and others walking by on the sidewalk. I approached a nearby police officer to intervene, and was told there was “nothing he could do” because “it was just kids being kids.”

          • Sounds about the right response from the DC police force.

          • No, that’s kids being assholes. Thanks, copper.

          • Exact same kind of sh*t happened to me on 14th in CH outside of the Starbucks/Chipotle. I turned around and screamed at the kids who threw shit at me as I locked up my bike, and they were taken aback at first, but then got over it and kept aggravating me. I tried to get a cop across the street to intervene, but she said nothing would happen to them anyway so I should drop it.

  • Seems like his approach successfully diffused the situation. Ignore, move-on–quickly and purposeful– get the police involved as necessary.

  • Ask the beggars for money, it throws them off their game! ::sarcasm::

  • If you really feel threatened and the need to protect yourself, use pepper spray. Seriously. I carry it with me and have, very fortunately, never had to use it. Teach ’em a lesson. They’ll be fine after 20 min.

  • i was harassed just this weekend. the person asked me if i was slow, and if i spoke english. which was very ironic because she mumbled a question at me, which i could not understand. there are many many rude, manner-less, uneducated people in this town. you just have to treat them like children and ignore them. if things escalate, walk away, or call the police.

  • nightborn

    Save the nonemergency police number or the number of a local officer to your phone and just call or text when you feel unsafe. Your friend should have been calling the authorities the second they followed him into the coffee shop – even if they couldn’t do anything, it would guarantee a safe exit.

    I don’t even wait to see if I’m overreacting – better embarassed than robbed or worse.

    • Here’s your Daily PoPville PSA: The “police nonemergency number” is 911.

      • nightborn

        thanks for correcting me! I have the numbers of a couple of local cops and tend to reach out to them, so haven’t used the nonemergency number in years – clearly. 🙂

    • There is no longer a “nonemergency” police number — 911 is for both emergency and non-emergency police calls. (If it’s not an emergency, specify this up front when you call.)

      • Oops… somehow I didn’t see WestEgg’s earlier response until my screen refreshed after my own post.

      • Not correct. The non emergency number for things like noise complaints is 311. However in this case, you should call 911 if you’re in fear.

        • Not correct – 311 is for city services like streetlight repair and bulk trash collection. 911 is for ALL police/fire/ambulance calls. The operator will route the call according to priority.

  • Are you serious? I would never, ever pepper stray or do anything to the “kids” in DC unless they had a weapon. Not only would you be arrested for assaulting a minor, if you both live in the same neighborhood, you better prepare yourself for a war with their parents, relatives, and friends…. and you WILL lose.

    • +1000

      I hope the guy was just kidding about the pepper spray but if not, a very reckless comment.

    • Are you kidding me?? I don’t care how old you are, if I honestly feel threatened, I will defend myself. Arrest me for “assaulting a minor,” but good luck with that if there are witnesses and the “kid(s),” brazen/stupid enough to threaten an adult already have a criminal record. I’ve read too many posts here about adults getting mugged or assaulted by “kids” in this city.

      • Tough guy/gal on the internet alert.

        • “Feeling threatened” and about to be attacked and need to defend yourself – there is a fine line. Be careful Pepper Spray Hero.

          • If you see a shady group of kids, cross the street. Basically, avoid them. It’s not that big of a deal to just avoid a situation if you have a bad feeling or you are witnessing aggressive behavior on their behalf. I’d rather be safe than sorry and I’d rather avoid a potentially violent situation then engage.

            I don’t care what anyone says about racially profiling, blah blah blah. If I see kids acting like punks, regardless of their skin color, I tend to avoid those people. Not worth my time or the possibility of it escalating. They have much less to lose so you never know how they may behave toward you.

        • Ha! So I guess your answer is to sit back and let them beat the crap out of you. Thankfully not everybody automatically turns their lunch money over to the neighborhood bullies.

  • A couple weeks ago I was standing at the intersection of 7th and Pennsylvania Ave SE, waiting for the light to change, and a sketchy-looking dude came walking by and grabbed/pinched me hard on the arm. Then he kept right on walking. There were tons of people around, several standing right next to me at that intersection, but it happened so quickly that no one noticed. I felt kind of weird and didn’t know how to respond, but later regretted not calling the police.

  • houseintherear

    Now deal with situations like that 1-3 times/day, except with sexual threats/language, and you know what it’s like to be a woman.
    A firm “Stop” usually works for me, then walking away. Or just ignoring completely.

    • #YesAllWomen
      I do the sunglasses and headphones, even if there’s no music. If a harasser can tell himself that I didn’t hear/ see him, he doesn’t have respond to the “disrespect” I showed by ignoring his comment about my backside, or his invitation to get to know each other a little better, or his request for money, or, or, or…

    • You’re more direct than I am. I’d be more inclined to say “Thank you, good sir. I hope you have a great day of hanging out in front of the liquor store.”

  • To pose another question: Do any PoP subscribers know if there is any DC law against hate speech in public. For example use of the N word and slurs towards gay people. I have been called a “faggot” on numerous occasions in Columbia Heights and U Street. I just keep on walking and ignore the these individuals. Just curious if hate speech falls under free speech in DC.

    • Some homeless woman in Petworth called me a “raggedy-ass Jew” two years ago – is that hate speech?

      • I was called “greek” as a derogatory slur when I lived in Baltimore. Apparently there has been some bad blood between the two groups for decades. Funny when it happened it took me a while to realized it was meant as a slur. All I could think about is “hey, this Portuguese guy looks possibly like John Stamos!”

      • Depends – was your ass in fact raggedy?

    • I would be very very surprised and skeptical if there were. In general, there aren’t laws that prohibit people solely from calling others bad names, no matter how offensive.

    • Though there are laws against threats of violence. If someone says, “I’m going to kick your ass,” that’s against the law.

      • Just to clarify, you have to be in fear of the act. The charge doesn’t apply if you don’t believe you are in danger

    • There are no hate speech laws in the entire nation because the first amendment is a federal law.

    • I dunno if its hate speech, but it sure ruins your day. last year, a dude outside of 711 on 14th street told me I had chicken legs. i’m still scarred…

    • Hate speech needs to be more than just insults to be actionable–“faggot” isn’t enough. It has to be inciting immediate violence, which is a pretty high standard that’s basically not going to be met unless it’s actually accompanied by violence. (A lawyer could concoct a hypothetical where it’s not accompanied by violent action, but such a situation would be unlikely to happen.)

    • well, the football team is called “Redskin” so probably not?

  • Pretending to not know English or pretending to be deaf often throws them off their game.
    They’ll probably make a crude remark but they’ll move on to their next easily intimidated mark.

  • When around people who make me uncomfortable, I start to prancerise. If done with enthusiasm and vigor, most people will think I am crazy and stay away.

  • DC has its own brand of aggressive street harassment, and people shouldn’t feel bad about not knowing how to handle it. The panhandlers are also very aggressive here.

    It sounds to me like the person did the right thing by going back inside the coffee shop and waiting for the group to lose interest. Unfortunately that means they found someone else to bother, so calling the police as well is a good idea as well.

  • I find a curt “fuck off” to be very effective. Then again, I’m a fairly big guy blessed with a big beard and lots of ink.

  • Being a former teenager myself, I stop, acknowledge “their” existence and decide if I want to help the kids out. I have never been bullied, harassed, threatened, or felt intimidated. Most recently, a young man in a high school uniform asked me to for help with his metro fare. I gave him a few dollars extra and he was so appreciative, he left his friends more than once to thank me while we were waiting on the train. I don’t think calling the police is appropriate or effective. I also think ignoring people at times can be very counter productive. I suggest you look person(s) in their eye(s) and give your answer, as one human to another.

    • nightborn

      I think I’ve gotten that whole “hey, I need a dollar for the metro/bus/to get to the hospital/school/pick up my baby sister” at least twice a month!

      • Yeah, but there’s a difference between “hey, can I have a dollar” and getting up in your face and demanding “GIVE ME A DOLLAR!”

      • Lol…I get it several times a day in Logan…funny how ‘those in need’ aren’t as needy when it’s raining or cold…

    • Yeesh, blame the victim much? Unfortunately, your experience isn’t generalizable to the whole population. Some people really do seem to bear the brunt of this stuff more than others. Like you, I’m not one of them. But there’s a little thing called empathy.

      • Stop it with the accusations of victim-blaming. I don’t think there’s much useful wisdom in Alv_N_DC’s comment but there is no victim-blaming either.

      • I’m sad that the victim was harassed. I think that no one SHOULD experience discomfort in their neighborhood. That being said, the person that posed the question asked for advice as to how to handle the situation and I offered what has worked for me in my 10 years of living in DC. I am not blaming the victim in any way shape or form.

    • its sometimes pretty easy to tell the difference between kids asking earnestly, and kids trying to intimidate or just rip you off.

      like other forms of humans, the child variety come in all kinds.

    • I would like to move to your utopian DC. Please tell me how to get there.

  • It is kinda sad that harassment and intimidation are commonplace for some people in DC. I’ve hardly ever seen or experienced it myself (outside of the context of cycling). But I’m a 6’2″ white guy. Aside from a few aggressive panhandlers in my neighborhood, I’m usually left alone.

    • It is a daily experience for me and many others. It ranges from mild side-eye staring or whistling to annoying/insulting comments, to physical threats such as following me and bringing in others to participate. I am not easily cowed, but it can be exhausting to carry my guard up. All. The. Time. The best thing you can do, as someone who doesn’t suffer from street harassment, is to open your eyes and ears and speak up when someone else is being harassed. Help make the streets a safer place for everyone to navigate.

  • Respond in a foreign language. Russian really works well. They’ll say something crude in response and move on because they’re so confused. Little cretins barely speak English . . .

    • Lol. I actually found my Russian accent really helpful in shoving off a scammer last week. He wanted money for shoveling snow a decade ago…

  • Aggressive

  • their goal was to intimidate him. if he wandered off they would have followed him. your friend did the right thing.

  • Whatever you do, never pull out ANY money…I’ve lived near 14th and P for ten years…obviously 14th is busy now, especially on weekends…I see the same guys repeatedly showing up and hanging out when it’s busy…some for a few years…

  • Your friend did the exact right thing – going to a safe place. A situation with 3 kids on the the street can rapidly escalate and it only takes one good punch to the face and you are out of it.
    But my own technique – when I judge the situation to be not-out-of-control is to calmly talk to them directly. It actually kind of throws them off base.

  • It sounds like your friend did the right thing in that situation. Unfortunately, street harassment is a thing that happens in this city daily, at all times of the day, and yes in populated areas (it’s not just some late-at-night-in-an-alley stuff). Just check out some of the reports on CASS’s website – they are shocking. Also, they have tips on there, and training that you can go to if you feel like you could use them. They are great and doing a lot of good work to make this city safer for everyone, so you could always volunteer too.

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