Walking in Rome: Street Harassment in Another Language

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Check out Ursa Heyer’s series on the life cycle of street harassment here.

In the bathroom she puts on her war paint, spends an hour on her makeup so she can walk with confidence. Tugs on her skirt with the slit to make sure it won’t ride up as she walks. Check the heels on her work shoes.

Can you run jump fight? Can you defend against the leering boogeyman of broad daylight?

She locks the front door behind her and walks down the road, scanning ahead for dog shit. No. Eyes up, stare straight ahead. She stops at an intersection to wait out the light. That’s when they swoop in, almost run her over in their big white work van.

“A Bella!” they shout. “Ammazza Che fregna!”

They lean out the window, their crooked teeth leering, the wrinkles around their eyes say they probably have fully grown daughters of their own.

“Hey beautiful!” She translates in her mind. “Fuck, what a great piece of pussy.”

I forgot, she thinks, I‘m just a vagina on legs. The light turns green she crosses. Deep deep breaths, they aren’t worth your anger. Walk with long strides, glare ahead with lazer eyes, dare them to speak, they’ll catch on fire.

50 meters down the road they are sitting outside a bar on those red plastic chairs. They look her up and down the way you choose a heifer. Good strong legs nice rump, open the mouth lets check out those teeth. Glare back glare back but don’t say a word. Don’t ask them who they think they are because you already know their answer. This is their place, their territory you’re trespassing in. Go back to the kitchen where you belong.

Keep walking through the cars that whizz pass, honk and stare, the men leaning across the passenger seats to shout. Clench your fists and see red. Breathe in and breathe out because if they ruin your day you’ve lost, they go on, they’ll forget, you’ll just be another pair of legs another set of curves under a dress they found worth a howl of appreciation.

How to cope with street harassment in Rome

In Rome street harassment is a major problem. It can be overwhelming, frustrating, and very frightening, especially if you aren’t used to it. Unfortunately there is no easy solution to the problem, and foreign-looking women tend to be on its receiving end especially frequently. This happens even more if you’re in a group of English speakers at night. During the day, street harassment tends to consist of older men shouting or staring inappropriately. At night inebriated young men won’t hesitate to follow you, asking to take you for a drink. While you can’t make them disappear with lazer eyes, there are some ways to deal mentally with the stress and minimize he amount of time you have to spend dealing with these creeps.

***Please note: I in no way mean to imply that women are somehow responsible for their own harassment. Rather, I find certain tips useful with coping with the stress and frustration of what sadly enough is a part of life.

  1. Get angry. You have a right to walk down the street without being harassed. Don’t allow anyone to make you feel that you can’t go where you need to go (though it’s ok to be sad and frustrated about it sometimes too).
  2. Be confident. Walk with your chin held high. I often call this my “model walk”. The best way to make yourself feel confident is to “fake it ’til you make it”, and this can sometimes help deflect some of he more appiccicoso (sticky – a way of saying someone who won’t leave you alone) guys.
  3. Take a self defense course. Violent crime in Rome is very rare, and while I’ve had a variety of strange and disturbing encounters, no one has ever touched me or threatened to harm me physically. Though you probably won’t ever need to use your moves, self defense courses are great for building self-confidence, giving you a better understanding of your body, and its powerful capabilities.
  4. Wear headphones. Find some good music that makes you feel empowered and walk in time with it. While you should never ignore your surroundings, I fully believe that you can ignore the assholes while caring for your own personal safety, all with some strategic help from some music.
  5. Don’t be polite. Women from the midwest USA have particular difficulties ignoring men who are speaking to them, feeling that it is rude. This leads them to smile, or respond to rude and offensive comments, in stressful situations. But here is the truth: ignoring a man who is harassing you on the street is never rude. If you don’t want to speak to him, you don’t have to, and you should exercise that power.

If you ever do find yourself in need of help, first and foremost, don’t be shy. Scream in whatever language you know how to speak, so people know you are in distress. For the police, you can call one of these two numbers (from personal experience I recommend the carabinieri).

Carabinieri: 112

Police: 113

Ambulance: 118

Helpline for women in trouble and who have faced violence (run by the International House of women – Casa Internazionale delle Donne): 335 768 8458

7 thoughts on “Walking in Rome: Street Harassment in Another Language

    1. I’m so sorry that happened to you! The really sad thing is that so many women i know who have had similar experiences. It’s such a widespread problem but people rarely talk about it.

      1. I had a worse thing happen to me on a train from Pompeii to Naples. This teenage boy cupped a certain downstairs region (keeping it safe for the kids). The audacity.

  1. been in rome since february and have faced zero harassment. Sometimes i just thank heavens for my uglyness (i am fat) 😀 the setback is they dont give me panna in laromana 😦

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