The woman — who has asked to go by H.K. to conceal her identity — has been verbally harassed by the same man for years. Despite multiple calls, trips and visits to the 114th Precinct, she is continually told that the police can do nothing to help her.
H.K. explained that the first time the man harassed her, in March of 2012, she was walking by Astoria Park when she felt someone touch her back. She turned around to find a man smirking at her and repeating over and over again, “I want to touch you.”
Terrified, H.K. eventually raised her voice and threatened to call the police, which caused the man to leave. She said she was “shaken” and took the bus to work, at which point she called the police.
Thus began H.K.’s long battle to get the police actively involved in her case. At first, she said, they told her that she should have called the police right away so they could try to catch the man on the street.
Later, she said, when the police did not call her back after she filed a report, she called them again and they told her the incident was “not sexual harassment” and that the case had been closed.
Similar incidents occurred over the course of the next few months between her and her harasser.
“I turned into a psychopath,” H.K. said. “I kept turning my back and looking for him.”
She went back to the 114th Precinct, she said, and was cross-examined by two female cops. One, she said, made her feel as if the harassment was her fault.
“She asked me why I thought he was only following me,” H.K. said, “insinuating that I was doing something to attract him.”
The officers then told her that they could only help if she were to get the man’s information — at least his name and address — and even suggested that she take a picture of him on her phone next time she saw him on the street.
A representative from the 114th Precinct explained that this is normal protocol for cases of harassment.
“It’s a case of harassment. Will that go anywhere if she doesn’t have enough information? Probably not,” he said. “Usually when it comes to harassment, they don’t really follow up too much on it.”
H.K. then figured out that the man in question lived in her neighborhood. She went to her building manager, Shannon Kilcullen, who said that she knew the man and was willing to cooperate with the police. She was not legally allowed to give any of the man’s information directly to H.K.
“I told her to have the police call me or have them stop here, and I would be more than happy tell them exactly what’s going on and give them this guy’s information,” Kilcullen said.
But, H.K. explained, the police would not call Kilcullen to get the information. The police were at her apartment again last week, after the same man harassed her nanny while she was out with H.K.’s young son.
At that point, H.K. told the police that Kilcullen was willing to help, but the police did not call or visit the building manager.
“They’re not going to call her,” H.K. said. “Literally, if you walk from our apartment building to the management building it will take you three minutes.”
The representative from the 114th Precinct said that this was to be expected.
“I don’t think the police will go and get the information for her, that is true,” he said.
When asked why there was not more action taken in cases of harassment, the representative said that it was “because it’s a violation, it’s not an arrestable offense.” According to him, harassment is “not that serious, according to laws.”
New York State law states, however, that harassment in the second degree is a violation that is punishable by a fine of up to $250 and/or up to 15 days in jail.
For harassment in the first degree, which happens when a person “intentionally and repeatedly harasses another person by following such person in or about a public place or places or by engaging in a course of conduct or by repeatedly committing acts which places such person in reasonable fear of physical injury,” the penalties are greater.
If a harasser follows a person at least twice, that person can be reported. Harassment in the first degree is a class B misdemeanor that may be punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or up to three months in jail.
In her experience, however, H.K. was not informed about any of these penalties. She is now facing the loss of her nanny, who has quit because she does not feel safe in the neighborhood.
“I can’t blame her,” H.K. said. “How can I feel safe again?”
One global movement, called Hollaback!, aims to end street harassment through crowd-sourced incident reporting in a mobile app. The movement was created based on the belief that cases like H.K.’s are not uncommon.
“Sexual harassment is a gateway crime that creates a cultural environment that makes gender-based violence okay,” the group’s website reads. “There exists a clear legal framework to reproach sexual harassment and abuse in the home and at work, but when it comes to the streets — all bets are off.”
For H.K., street harassment has been a continual threat for two years without any solution. She said that she “does not know what else to do” and that the “police are useless.”
“If this was happening to your wife or your daughter, what would you do?” she asked.