In 2010, Nicola Briggs felt a man rub himself against her while riding an uncrowded subway train in Manhattan. Briggs turned around to find, to her horror, that the man had exposed himself and was wearing only a condom.
While this type of sexual assault is startlingly common, Briggs' story took a unique turn. A tai chi instructor, the 5-foot-tall Briggs fiercely confronted the perpetrator in the middle of the subway car.
"Oh, you're getting f---ing arrested. I'm not leaving your side," she told him, enlisting the help of other passengers to keep him in check.
Not missing a beat, another passenger got out his cameraphone and recorded the alternately infuriating and inspiring ordeal.
Warning: Contains graphic language
The video, later uploaded to YouTube, clearly hit a nerve, and has garnered over 2 million views to date.
Some commenters have been predictably sexist in their response, calling Briggs bitchy and irritating, but she's a hero to many who've been subjected to or witnessed street harassment (i.e., the vast majority of women).
Now Briggs is telling her story in her own words in the New York Daily News. "I believe it's time that we, as crime victims, bring the shame back on the shoulders of the perpetrators," she writes, "and be unafraid to tell the world our stories."
Briggs describes the incident as follows:
Without warning, a man on the train made the unwise decision to make me the target of a sexual assault. He tried to rub himself against me by taking advantage of a packed subway train. ... There really are no proper words to describe the anger and sense of violation that one feels when something like that happens to you. ...I confronted him, announcing to the subway car at the top of my lungs what he had been doing to me. I let the perpetrator know that he wouldn't get away with it, and that he would be going to jail. ..."That's it!" I screamed. "You're getting f---ing arrested. I'm not leaving your side tonight. ... I'm escorting you to the police precinct!"
A three-time offender, Briggs' attacker was subsequently branded a sex offender and deported.
Briggs' anger is entirely justified, because street harassment isn't just an inconvenience. It's a serious crime that disproportionately affects women, LGBTQ individuals and people of color, impeding on their right to feel safe in public spaces.
A recent report by the nonprofit Stop Street Harassment found that a disturbing 41% of women experience especially aggressive forms of this harassment, including unwanted touching, following, flashing or being forced to do something sexual by their assailant. Whatever its form, street harassment is never complimentary, leaving victims feeling angry, frightened, disgusted and violated.
Image Credit: Stop Street Harassment
There is already too much shame tied to being the target of this type of crime. That’s why many victims never come forward, and are still, even in this advanced society, often not properly supported when they do tell others about it. I believe it’s time that we, as crime victims, bring the shame back on the shoulders of the perpetrators, and be unafraid to tell the world our stories. ...I think, that as women living in our society, we were brought up to not raise our voices in public, that it was neither a polite, nor ladylike, thing to do. But we’ve got to remember that when it comes to protecting our personal safety, and safeguarding our dignity, each one of us has every right to speak up, and to speak up loudly.
Briggs' actions should serve as a reminder that these types of incidents do not have to be tolerated, and may give comfort and hope to others who have had to deal with similar forms of harassment.
But to be absolutely clear, although Briggs was fortunate to have had the confidence imbued by years tai chi experience, self-defense training is not the ultimate solution to curbing sexual assault. Not everyone in Briggs' situation would have reacted the same way regardless of how well prepared they were, and that's OK. It's not the responsibility of the victim to fight back or detain the perpetrator, as Briggs did, and victims are never to blame for what happened to them — the perpetrators are.
Echoing the anti-victim blaming sentiment of Angelina Jolie's speech earlier this month at the world's first Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, Briggs concludes her piece by writing, "We aren't the ones who need to feel embarrassed — it's sexual predators who need to feel the shame and public scrutiny from their unacceptable behavior."
Read the whole story at the Daily News.