Approximately 60 people rallied in Southeast D.C. on August 23, for “Reclaiming My Body”, an initiative that aims to tackle sexual assault and violence against Black women.
Schyla Pondexter-Moore, 41-year-old mother of three, organized the rally in a shopping plaza in Southeast D.C. where her then 16-year-old daughter was sexually harassed by a group of men in the plaza parking lot.
According to Stop Street Harassment, “sixty-five percent of women reported experiencing at least one type of street harassment in their lifetimes.”
And according to the Connecticut Alliance to end Sexual Assault, “approximately 40% of Black women report coercive sexual contact by age eighteen.”
The alleged incident took place on July 23, 2017, when her two daughters, 13 and 16, were harassed and followed from a 7-Eleven to the other side of the plaza parking lot where Pondexter-Moore and her young son were standing at a hot food table.
“They started hollering at her when she left the 7/11,” Pondexter-Moore said. “My daughter ignored them and that’s when they started following her and yelling at her.”
Pondexter-Moore said that a group of three older men followed her daughters all the way to the hot food table, and that’s where she intervened.
“I started yelling at the men to leave my daughter alone,” said Pondexter-Moore. “They then told me how they weren’t ‘gay’, and ‘look at what she has on’”.
Pondexter-Moore recalled that when her daughter reached the table, they were approached by a woman they never met before, who then began tugging on her 16-year-old’s clothing.
Pondexter-Moore said her daughter wore leggings and a t-shirt that was tied up in the back, and after Pondexter-Moore’s daughter demanded the woman stop touching her the men continued to harass her daughter saying “that’s what you deserve for dressing like ‘that.”
Pondexter-Moore also said the men also verbally abused her.
“I was appalled that grown men threatened to beat up my daughter for defending herself against harassment,” said Pondexter-Moore. “They didn’t even say anything when she was being followed and harassed.”
While on the microphone, Pondexter-Moore emphasized the importance of male-to-male accountability. “Men check other men,” said Pondexter-Moore to the crowd. “Tell them that what they’re doing is harassment. We must combat the violence against women”
Other people who spoke to the crowd shared sentiments and similar stories of their own sexual harassment.
“I almost had a cinderblock thrown at me.” said Aja Taylor, 31.
“Because my mom is a Howard Alum, I always went to the homecomings, and this incident is one of my more vivid ones,” said Taylor.
“I finished talking to a friend when a man came up to me and asked me for my number. When I told him ‘I’m good’, I turn around and he’s about to throw a cinderblock at me,” Taylor recalled.
Taylor emphasized all of the methods that she feels she needs to keep safe, acknowledging that a simple ‘no’ could result in injury or death.
“I would walk with keys in between my fingers just incase I was harassed on the street.” said Taylor. “I would give my friends advice like, if a man asks for your number say ‘yes’ because its survival.”
“Men would you like it if your mother or sister or daughter were approached by random men on the street being catcalled?” said one man from the audience. “If you see another man harassing a woman on the street, say something to them.”
Pondexter-Moore also spoke against victim blaming, mentioning how “clothing shouldn’t determine how women are respected, approached and treated.”
During the rally, Pondexter-Moore’s daughter took to the microphone to have the audience participate in a segment called “Say Her Name” where the audience acknowledges women who’ve died after standing up to unwanted advancements.
“Men should not be able to threaten, curse out, follow and harass women,” said Pondexter-Moore. “We are here to combat victim blaming, street harassment, and rape culture.”