INDIANAPOLIS – Tiarah Poyau. She is one of the latest names added to a growing list of young women whose lives have been brutally cut down at the hands of men who couldn’t accept that their advances had been spurned … men who couldn’t take no for an answer.
Poyau, a 22-year-old student, was fatally shot while walking the J’Ouvert parade route with her friends this past Labor Day weekend. Witnesses say she told the alleged shooter to “get off of her” before being shot at close range above her right eye. The accused gunman, 20-year-old Reginald Moise, was trying to grind on Poyau before their brief and deadly exchange. Moise reportedly left the scene soon after, and four hours later was picked up by police for drunk driving and shooting up his cousin’s Brooklyn apartment. In an hour-long interview with the Daily News, Moise was remorseful and added that he has no recollection of his actions that night.
This disregard for human life, this reckless behavior and toxic masculinity can be a woman’s worst nightmare. Just ask the friends and loved ones of Mary Spears or Janese Talton-Jackson. In January, Talton-Jackson, 29, was shot in the chest and left to die on a Pittsburgh city street after reportedly telling Charles McKinney she wasn’t interested in his date offer. In October of 2014, 27-year-old Spears was out with her fiance at an American Legion Post on Detroit’s east side when a man approached her, asking for her phone number. He became upset when she didn’t oblige, and even after being escorted out of the nightclub, he took things to another level by letting off a couple gunshots in the venue. One of those shots fatally wounded Spears.
Despite the numerous instances of fatal catcalling encounters, there are some men who believe conversations around street harassment are overblown and frivolous. I’ve experienced this personally when explaining to my male friends and family what is and is not OK when interacting with the opposite sex. One friend remarked to me that he hates it when he goes out to clubs and all girls want to do is hang out with the friends they came with. I probed deeper to get more of an understanding of what, exactly, frustrated him about this. “Well, what’s the point in them getting all dressed up to be anti-social all night?” I explained to him that a woman’s choice to engage or not engage him in dancing, conversation or whatever is just that — her choice. Women do not owe men anything — Not our time, attention, phone numbers, or bodies. Nothing. It bothered me that this seemingly simple concept didn’t click right away. For him, there was still room for debate.
It made me wonder what happened in his upbringing that allowed for this sort of thinking. I imagine he received certain social cues from his father, brothers and uncles about how men and women should interact with one another. Judging from his reaction to our talk, I think it’s fair to infer it was his first time being informed on a woman’s right to choose, and that’s scary.
Though street harassment is a grossly under-researched topic, international advocacy organization Stop Street Harassment reports that of 2,000 people surveyed, 65 percent of women had experienced street harassment. Of that number, 23 percent had been sexually touched, 20 percent had been followed and 9 percent had been forced to do something sexual.
The numbers are startling, and for those of us who have experienced such, the fear of being harassed — or worse, physically attacked — causes you to constantly be on guard, analyzing your surroundings, clothing choices and the way in which you respond (or don’t respond) to unwanted advances. It is exhausting and troublesome. In fact, if I had $1 for every time my friends or I experienced harassment, we’d probably have enough to live on an island, free from potential harassers.
So where do we go from here? I don’t believe law or policy are viable methods to end street harassment, and to be frank, as long as people exist on this planet, someone will be disrespected, someone will be mistreated and someone will be harassed. It is an unfortunate reality. I believe we lessen the instances of street harassment by continuing to educate our brothers, fathers, boyfriends, teachers and our children on what it means to be an asset to society, as opposed to a liability. I think that we need to provide more safe public, professional and social places for women to exist without fear of onslaught. If you see something, say something. If you’re out and you see a young woman being put in an uncomfortable situation, a simple, “You OK, sis?” (Thank you, Feminista Jones) could literally save a life.
If you’d like more information on street harassment or would like to share your own story, visit stopstreetharassment.com.