One chronicle of street (and other sexual) harassment in Colorado Springs 

Editor's Note

click to enlarge An artist’s rendering of one of the creeps, drawn the day of a harassment. - RILEY BRATZLER
  • Riley Bratzler
  • An artist’s rendering of one of the creeps, drawn the day of a harassment.
She doesn’t feel safe walking in downtown Colorado Springs in broad daylight.
This isn’t a new feeling, and she doesn’t expect it’ll go away, ever, based on weekly, sometimes daily harassment.

It’s not her fault. She doesn’t invite attention. She can’t help that she’s 5 feet tall, a size that attracts mistreatment beyond that which her friends regularly endure. But her size and appearance should be irrelevant. This is a problem with — and for — men, not the women the predators harass.

The men say things like: “Hey beautiful, give daddy a kiss,” on the corner of Colorado Avenue and Tejon Street.

These strangers don’t know her name, so naturally “bitch” is a good stand-in.

“I am talking to you, don’t be a bitch,” says a man at Kiowa Street and Nevada Avenue, hating to be ignored.

“Bitch, be glad there are people around,” another threatens.

She doesn’t respond to two creeps walking behind her near Kiowa and Tejon streets, so one throws the dregs of a Slurpee and a half-eaten apple at her. (Thanks, but she already had lunch.)

Another boy blocks her path on the sidewalk just outside her workplace, stepping off his BMX bike: “Do you want to fuck me?” he says. It’s not even 9 a.m. yet. “Fuck you!” she yells, not always able to be non-confrontational. Should she have to? Does it help? Does it put her in more danger? Do they get off on her anger? Does it embolden them?

I buy her pepper spray and a key-chain alarm and talk about what to do if she is physically attacked. Go for the balls, the eyes, scratch, kick, do whatever you have to do. I’m no expert. I’m guessing, hoping it doesn’t come to that. She’s mad that I’m giving her advice when it’s not something I have to deal with. I try to offer solutions, to approach her situation with a fix-it mentality, but if there were a way to fix the problem, she would have found it. Women have tried employing my solutions before. She says she shouldn’t have to worry about these things. I agree, but tell her I think the Boy Scouts’ “be prepared” motto makes sense. I feel frustrated and want to help. But she didn’t ask for my help.

We argue about what it truly means to be an ally. She sends me articles that dispel the “not all men” narrative, that challenge my patriarchal privilege. She wants me to understand and, most of all, to listen. It’s hard not to be defensive, because I consider myself a good man, no more able than she to control the men around me — other than if presented with a chance to call out the damaging behavior of my male peers. But I can’t control the things they say to her on our streets.

“I notice you walk here [near an eatery] from your work every day,” some guy says, as if that’s not a stalker’s pickup line. Ick.

“Oh, I think we have another bitter woman on our hands,” says one of five guys from the patio of a Tejon Street bar after she declines his offer for a hug.

“You must be a lesbian,” says another man, after she tells him she’s not interested in joining him for a drink. Yes, that’s it, this guy’s such hot shit a girl must be gay not to want a chance with him.

Sure, guys have to find ways to ask a girl out sometimes, and vice versa. There are many gentlemanly approaches, even creative and humorous ways to do it. One of those ways is NOT while working as a cashier at a coffee shop and asking for her number while she’s ordering, then, after being declined, looking her up on Instagram and sending her a dick pic. (Has that ever worked, fellas?)

Her friends sometimes say, “oh, yeah, this city’s homeless population ...” presuming they’re to blame, that they’re the perpetrators. But overwhelmingly, they aren’t. The creeps are just as much middle-aged white men in business suits, she says. In broad daylight, downtown. One, very well dressed, says, “Let me see your pussy.” It’s only mid afternoon and he appears drunk.

“I didn’t ask if you have a boyfriend, I asked for your number,” a shitbag says.

“You look like my granddaughter, but hotter,” another pervert says.

“No woman should be eating alone, I insist I eat with you,” says another wishful scumbag at a restaurant.

Sometimes it’s the restaurant/bar owners who are the perpetrators. One said: “I didn’t realize you had such nice legs,” one week. Then, the next, “Every time I see you, you look more... what’s the word... cuter? More beautiful? No, more DELECTABLE.” (We stopped spending our money there, despite loving the food.)

She worked in a bar for a man (who has had many other allegations against him), who pinned her against a wall, appearing to threaten to rape her: “If you weren’t 19 years old, I’d fuck the shit out of you,” he said.

Still today, at work, men are inappropriate. One asked if she was wearing a bra one day. “Wow, you look so beautiful. Who are you trying to impress?” another said one morning. They pick her up, tickle and hug her without permission. They appear innocent and taken aback when she calls them on it.

Relatively speaking, those are the easier days. The worst are when she gets followed, chased, and has to hide.

One man follows her for two blocks, calls her cute, and beautiful, then touches her shoulder. She keeps walking. “You’re a fucking cunt, look at me!” he yells.

“Baby girl get in my car, and I will show you a good time,” another man yells from a white Lexus SUV. It’s 8:30 a.m., and he’s pulled out of traffic and into the 7-Eleven parking lot at Nevada and Cimarron streets after seeing she was walking that direction. He’d been honking at her and she didn’t look over. She’s forced to flee inside, quickly alerting two male clerks she’s being followed. They tell her to hide behind the counter, and ask him to leave when he comes in, searching the aisles for her. He returns to his car, but lingers there for several more minutes until one of the clerks has to walk outside and threaten to call the cops.

The clerks are a reminder of the good Samaritans out there. Unfortunately, those aren’t always around when the stalkers strike.

One day, on her bike — all creepy men like to yell at girls on bikes from their cars, mind you — a fellow bicyclist follows her along the trail on south Shooks Run, telling her how beautiful she is, over and over. No matter what turn she takes into the neighborhoods, he keeps up with her, shooting a cocksure, slimy smile her way. She pulls into a stranger’s driveway and pretends she lives there, lingering on the front porch until the creeper gives up and bikes away.
Does she think about calling the police? (Remember, a call to 911 often places one on a brief hold, and average response times these days for a priority one call can be up to 13 or 14 minutes.) Sure, she thinks about it often, but the only time she actually does call is when a Chevy SUV with four men inside pull up next to her in traffic at Weber and Boulder streets and say “Hey sexy, where are you going?” When she says “fuck off!” they begin yelling profanities back at her. The light turns and they follow her aggressively, riding her bumper. Her palms sweat, she nears a panic attack, and has to pull over. Thankfully they continue on. She has managed to get their license plate and calls it in to police. They say they’ll follow up. But it turns out she had the plate number wrong. (Ah, the one that got away.)

Not to sound defeatist and grim, but it wouldn’t have mattered even if they’d gotten that guy. Many more will take his place. This harassment isn’t going to stop for her. It’s the burden of being born a woman, and with the need to walk through downtown, drive for an errand or bike home.

As we’ve said, this is a woman’s problem borne out of a problem in society with ill-behaving men. Our society needs to stop teaching women not to be harassed, she says, and instead teach men not to harass.

We have no solutions up our sleeves other than that. Even though we don’t know the names of these many perpetrators, we figure the #MeToo movement applies to this chronicle, as this is all to speak out against sexual assault and harassment. When I first learned the frequency with which this was happening to her, I was shocked. I had no idea it happened in broad daylight on our streets, in the supposed City of Champions. I was naive, which is perhaps how many people are feeling after seeing the now-ubiquitous hashtag on so many friends’ pages, and hearing one celebrity outing after another.

For my part, I try to just hold space and stay in tune with her experiences. While I’m out strolling these same streets on a dog walk or coffee run, I think about my privilege, to generally walk carefree, unharassed for my gender and appearance.

I won’t pretend there’s anything remotely satisfactory that I can write here to conclude these stories of harassment. I’ve read that some men are using the #HowIWillChange hashtag to commit to “actionable change against cultures of sexual violence.” Honestly, I don’t yet know what that looks like for me. That’s part of the problem; so few of us do. But perhaps this can be where I start.

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