There is no “correct” way to deal with catcalling. Some of us shout back, some of us run away, some of us simply ignore it. There is no good way to deal with a strange man yelling at you on the street. It is impossible to know if this man will leave you alone or follow you back to your apartment. When it comes to experiencing street harassment, it’s hard not to feel like any concept of safety and control is just an illusion.
In truly horrifying news, Ruth George, a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago was sexually assaulted and killed early Saturday morning after ignoring a man who was catcalling her. George, 19, was walking to her car early Saturday morning when a man began following her and verbally harassing her, according to the New York Times.
According to prosecutors, surveillance video showed the man following George into a parking garage, where he approached her from behind, put her into a chokehold until she fell unconscious, and then allegedly sexually assaulted her in the back of her car.
George’s family grew nervous after she didn’t return home on Saturday, and contacted the University police. After tracking her phone, the police found George unresponsive in the back seat of her family’s car. Her sisters tried to resuscitate her, but George was pronounced dead at the scene. The medical examiner ruled her death a homicide by strangulation.
The suspect, Donald Thurman, was taken into police custody on Sunday and gave a full confession, and was charged on Monday with first-degree murder and sexual assault.
Street harassment, for many women, nonbinary people and, well, anyone who isn’t a cis straight man, is often a terrifying part of daily existence. Despite the fact that the regularity or intensity of catcalling does not seem to have decreased, we don’t seem to talk about it as much these days—making it just one of the many forms of violence against women that have been normalized out of conversation.
It seems as though in our collective imagination, catcalling has been reduced to an annoyance, something you brush off and walk away from (not even going to acknowledge the “it’s a compliment” conversation), instead of a serious form of harassment. Perhaps some people who are harassed only ever hear a “hey mami” or two, but for a large majority of us, those comments often get violent, graphic, and occasionally physical—quickly. (Especially if you’re Black or Latinx.)
And like all forms of violence, catcalling is about power. What has stuck with me the most about the tragic assault and murder of Ruth George is the reasoning given by the prosecutor. According to the state’s attorney, the man who assaulted George thought she was pretty and was allegedly “angry that he was being ignored.”
How incredibly fucked up is that?