Walking While Female: Sexual Assault in Broad Daylight

Yesterday, DC resident Liz Gorman was sexually assaulted in broad daylight in what is considered a “safe” neighborhood in DC. Here are her own words on her experience.

Those of us who have worked in the service industry are very familiar of the 10-5 rule. This favorite of overzealous managers, inserted into every training session and employee handbook states that at 10 feet you make eye contact with a guest or customer, and at 5 feet you acknowledge them. Then a brief conversation ensues, the employee exchanges whatever good or service is being sold for money, and the encounter is over. Have a nice day.

While walking down a city street alone, a sort of reverse 10-5 rule exists. No matter the time of day or what you’re wearing. It goes like this: I am walking alone and see a man walking towards me at 10 feet. Maybe instead of looking straight ahead into the distance, I move my eyes to the ground. I slump my shoulders slightly, so maybe my breasts aren’t as prominent. I begin to analyze the width of the sidewalk; am I too close to him? I can’t move too far away, as I might risk offending him. And if I’m too close, well, that may very well be an invitation for something. At 5 feet, I take a small breath and one of two things happens: nothing at all, which I consider a small victory or…something. Something like a kissing sound or a variety of sexually explicit comments. At which point I left with two options: pretend that I don’t hear a damn thing, or risk an additional conversation, which in the past has been anything from a choice silent hand gesture and specific curse words to an extended conversation on mutual respect and common courtesy. It’s usually the curse words, which I wouldn’t recommend for those who can’t take what they dish. And the encounter is over. Have a nice day.



And most of us have to deal with this on a daily basis. We change our routes. Maybe I’ll take a left down this street so I don’t have to walk past That Store or That Bus Stop or That House. Maybe I’ll just take a cab when walking wouldn’t take much longer. Maybe I should have worn something else. Maybe I’ll just stay in tonight. There are a lot of “maybes”.

But let’s forget about all of the choices, those maybes, that we know have nothing to do with harassment but we still think about anyway. I was in Dupont Circle at 3:30 pm yesterday and was sexually assaulted while walking. In my hometown, in a nice neighborhood, in broad daylight, in public. I’m a city girl; I walk fast and have rules. A man pulled up behind me on his bicycle and reached up my skirt. He put his finger into my vagina through my underwear. He laughed and biked away. That was it. No 10-5, no catcall. No exchange. I didn’t see his face. At least when I was robbed at gunpoint I knew who to look for on the street.

The cops came within minutes and were exceedingly supportive. I went on with my day: I had lunch with my mom and then drinks with some of my closest friends well into the evening. I received many messages of support and encouragement, and I’m really grateful to have such wonderful people in my life. But one thing that has bothered me is referring to what I did as “brave.” I was simply walking while female. I guess I didn’t realize what a battle it still is out there and how much work we still have to do.


Liz Gorman is a photographer from Washington, DC.  This post is originally published on Collective Action for Safe Spaces.  Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS) fights street harassment in America’s capital by empowering Washingtonians to speak out against gender-based public sexual harassment and assault.

Photo Credit tedeytan via the Creative Commons License.

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  • Liz – thanks so much for sharing your experience.  I don’t think most men have any idea of how dangerous it is to “walk while female”. Adding one thing to your list of safe activities — when in an elevator, stand by the buttons so you can push all the floors if anyone grabs you.  Also, walk with your key sticking up in between your fingers so that, if necessary, your punches really hurt.  A lot.  But it is total craziness we have to live this way.

  • Nwands

    I don’t buy it. “…through my underwear.” What kind of underwear do you sport? All while this guy was riding a bike? Are you 10 ft tall, or does he have super human reach? This whole thing smells fishy to me.

    • Howolf12

      he could have very well stopped just a moment you know. What reason would she have to lie? And yes, he could have very well done such a ridiculous act through her underwear, it IS only fabric and it does move and it pliable–just think about it. It would have been impossible if she was wearing metal panties maybe, but that’s very unlikely. 

    • Typical misogynist, blaming the victim.

  • Emily

    As a 17 year old female, I have experienced more than my fair share of sexual harassment on the streets, even while walking to school, and, worst of all, when I used to wear a school uniform (so was clearly under-age). I have spoken to many boys my age about why boys and men think harassment and assault are acceptable, and most say it’s just a joke, for a laugh,  or just to get girls or women riled up and to get a reaction. What they do not seem to realise how humiliating, embarrassing and just plain SCARY it is to be harassed on the street when you’re just walking along, minding your own business, trying to get from A to B. I really respect Liz for speaking out about her assault, as many women and girls simply shrug it off and accept it as part of being female. It is not and should never be ‘part of life’ to expect to be harassed or assaulted when walking around the street, no matter what you are wearing, where you are the time of day or if you are on your own or not.
    Sorry for the long rant, but I (and many other women and girls I know) experience this kind of stuff on an almost daily basis, and I am sick and tired of it.

  • Garen

    That’s… downright nuts. The amount of trouble he’d have had to go through for that is mind-boggling, and I cannot figure out why he decided it was worth the bother to try to ruin some random stranger’s day. Good on you for not letting it ruin your day, but jeez.