A Star Wars writer has spoken out after experiencing harrowing sexual harassment on public transport, saying: “If you ever wonder why I write books about angry, violent, murderous women, THIS IS WHY.”
Delilah Dawson, an American author who has written several books set in the official Star Wars universe, took to Twitter to share her experience. She said that she was telling her story to help herself “process” what had happened, and to highlight the fact that sexual harassment is something experienced by women around the world every single day.
Dawson, 39, said that she was travelling on a MARTA train in the US city of Atlanta when a man came and sat right behind her. “[He] started with the usual harassment patter,” she wrote. “‘Hey baby. You lookin’ good. I like your tattoos.’”
The 39-year-old writer said that she told the man, “Nope”, and got up and moved to a different seat. The only other passengers in Dawson’s carriage were two older women and a “sleeping guy in his 60s” – none of whom said or did anything when her harasser followed her down the train.
“I got up [again] and backed away toward the door, hands up,” Dawson recounted. “‘No thanks,’ I said. ‘I’m married.’”
At this point, the author said, the man became “really aggressive”, telling her: “Bitch, you don’t tell me no. F*** you. I’mma get a tattoo that says f*** the police and f*** you.”
The train was pulling into Dawson’s station, and she got off, her hands still in the air. “He followed, yelling, ‘BITCH, YOU WANT TO FIGHT? I DO. I’M GONNA F***ING CUT YOU,’” the author said.
“The other ladies on the train gave me apologetic looks and escaped out the other door as he followed me, repeatedly threatening to cut me.”
Dawson said that she was able to briefly get away from the man at the station before he began following her again. At this point, a bystander – another man, accompanied by his teenage daughter – intervened, telling the harasser to leave Dawson alone.
“[The] guy went after him, saying, ‘A real man got to fight if he says shit like that,’” said Dawson. “Then, shouting that he was going to cut us both, the guy went up the stairs to [the] exit.”
“Shaking” with fear and afraid to leave the station alone, Dawson used a public police phone in the station to call for help. Atlanta police officers arrived within ten minutes and walked her to her car.
Explaining her decision to talk publicly about her experience on social media, Dawson said: “I’m 39. Dressed in loose clothing. Minimal make-up. Wedding ring. Minding my biz [sic]. Reading a book on my phone. Was terrified for my life.
“I guess I’m telling this story to help myself process it and to remind you that this is what women face every. Goddamn. Day.”
Dawson continued: “If you ever wonder why I write books about angry, violent, murderous women, THIS IS WHY. I was helpless. My characters are not.”
The author also rejected well-meaning suggestions from some of her followers that she could or should have somehow defended herself against her harasser, rather than simply trying to get away from him.
“The #1 rule of self-defence is SURVIVE,” she wrote. “I could list all the weapons I own and tell you how long I studied muay thai [Thai boxing] and BJJ [Brazilian Jiu Jitsu]. But I’d rather just let you know that IT SHOULDN’T HAPPEN.”
Referencing a previous sexual assault, Dawson added: “Telling me what I should’ve done when alone and threatened is kind of a dick move. I didn’t fight my rapist, either. But I survived.”
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Dawson’s story raises an important point about how we treat women who have been sexually harassed. Women who verbally or physically confront their harassers or assailants are often praised for their bravery, and rightly so.
Unfortunately, this can have the unwanted effect of suggesting that the many, many women who don’t respond to their harassers in this way – the women who, like Dawson, simply try and remove themselves from the situation as quickly, quietly and safely as possible – have somehow failed or let themselves down.
According to anti-street harassment initiative Hollaback, women should always prioritise their safety first when deciding whether or not to confront a harasser.
“The truth is, there is no right or wrong way to respond to harassment, because it isn’t your fault,” states the organisation. “Your response is a matter of personal choice.”
Given that 64% of women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment in public, it’s likely that many of us will have to decide whether or not to confront a harasser at some point in our lives. If you do feel safe enough to respond in the moment, Hollaback has some simple guidelines on how to make a stand against street harassment:
- Be firm. Look the harasser in the eye and denounce their behaviour with a strong, clear voice. Many people prefer to name the behaviour. For example, you can say “Do not [what they’re doing], that’s harassment.” You can also simply say “that is not okay” or “don’t speak to me like that.” Say what feels natural to you. The important thing is that you aren’t apologetic in your response.
- Don’t engage. Harassers may try to argue with you or dismiss you through further conversation or by making fun of you. As tempting as it may be get into a verbal war with them, we don’t recommend it. The attention may further feed their abusive behaviour.
- Keep moving. Once you’ve said your piece, keep it moving. Harassers don’t deserve the pleasure of your company.