Sexual Harassment Rampant in Chapel Hill Halloween Celebration; It's the Ladies' Fault for Being Dirty Sluts!

by Shaker Elmo

Every year on Halloween, tens of thousands of (mostly) young people gather on the main drag in Chapel Hill, to walk up and down the block to show off their costumes. Most of the crowd consists of students from UNC–Chapel Hill and other nearby universities. It is a fun event to watch from the sidelines. When I was an undergraduate, I enjoyed sitting on the stone walls along Franklin Street, watching the elaborate costumes go by.

When I returned a couple of years later as a participant, things were different. As I walked down the street, dressed in plain, winter clothes (amazingly enough it's usually chilly in NC on Halloween), my butt was grabbed, guys yelled lewd things at me, and I was groped (in other ways) numerous times. My friends experienced the same things and were disgusted by the end of the night. We left feeling like crap. My male friends did not participate in such disgusting behavior, of course (not every guy who attends Halloween engages in this crappy behavior), but having not received such harassment, they said they had a good time. Their experience was completely different.

One year I attended the event, a guy was dressed as a large, ~8 to 10 foot tall penis. His friends were around him, spraying silly spray over the top of the penis into the crowd. And that's what the "celebration" itself felt like—a group of people sexually assaulting the crowd at random.

That was years ago. I have since returned to the school as a graduate student. This year, the editorial board of the UNC student newspaper warned female students that if they did not want to be "haggled" while walking down Franklin Street, they'd better look as sexually unattractive as possible or make their bodies inaccessible.

Speaking specifically to "girls" who attend:

We advise all partygoers to travel in groups - strength in numbers, after all - and avoid dimly lit areas on Halloween.

It's no secret that many college women use Halloween as an excuse to wear extremely revealing clothing. The tendency to bare all is perhaps a large factor in drawing such massive crowds of men to Franklin Street.

But while students often expect the memory of their charade to last no longer than their buzz, they should be aware that images of them in costumes that would make their parents proud can be permanently documented by people's cameras.

As such, we recommend dressing up as an Eskimo, polar bear or Peter Griffin from Family Guy to avoid getting haggled.
The editors state that having your picture taken in a skimpy outfit is the only danger of wearing such a costume on Halloween; however, they insinuate that it could be worse and warn students to walk in numbers, etc. Why not address the harassment specifically? One student thought that the editorial board should have focused on criticizing bad male behavior rather than skimpy costumes, and she wrote a letter to the editor the next day:

Wednesday's editorial "You better watch out," (Oct. 31) advised females to dress as, "an Eskimo, polar bear or Peter Griffin from Family Guy to avoid getting haggled." That is outright ridiculous.
She notes earlier in her letter "Despite having practiced 'safety in numbers,' I still had my ass grabbed no less than three times—twice under my skirt." She continues to criticize the editorial:

While I recognize revealing clothing might send an unintended message, it still doesn't say, "please touch me."

It doesn't even say, "please talk to me."

Maybe rather than encouraging women to dress more appropriately on a night noted for its wild lack of propriety, [the editorial board] should be encouraging men to restrain themselves and realize that it is not their right to "haggle" a woman - regardless of the way she is dressed.

I usually question a costume idea for its coolness and originality. It's sad that I'm now expected to question whether my idea will risk creeps trying to assault me.
Amen. Harassment of women needed to be addressed. There is nothing wrong with the Daily Tarheel editors warning women of the dangers of going to Franklin Street on Halloween—staying in numbers and not traveling down dark alleyways by yourself is decent advice for everyone, regardless of one's sex. It's very unfortunate that we have to feel as though you can't do these things, but if checking your surroundings, as they advise, is something you can do to keep yourself safe, by all means do it. But, again, they did not address the behavior of the men on Franklin Street. And that's the problem. The are very slyly taking a 'blame the victim' stance.

Back to the letter to the editor written by the UNC senior: The responses to her letter were frightening. As a female who is constantly facing sexism on campus, and who was sexually assaulted by a group that kidnapped me from Franklin Street, the comments put me on edge. It's one thing to read rape-apologist type comments on a blog on the web, but in your student newspaper, when you know that most of the comments in the Daily Tarheel come from UNC students, staff, and faculty, it's a bit more disturbing. Here are some comments:

(First comment she received)
posted 11/01/07 @ 8:34 AM EST

Im not condoning men grabbing women on halloween, but dont wear the uniform if you cant play the game. If I were to dress up as something really offensive such as someone who died in 9/11, I would expect to be yelled at or punched. It's all about blowback.

posted 11/01/07 @ 8:39 AM EST

If you want to be respected, wouldn't it make sense to dress like it? What do you think the "unintended" message is when you wear sleazy clothing, on Halloween or otherwise? If you're participating in an event known for its "wild lack of propriety", and dress as if you don't have any, what do you expect to happen?

sad for you
posted 11/01/07 @ 9:43 AM EST

wow honey.

"safety in numbers": it's franklin street on halloween. you could be alone or in a group of 50, there's no getting people off of you.

"revealing clothing might send an UNINTENDED message": what message did you intend to send when you went out half-naked? were you not screaming for sexual attention?

"i usually question a costume idea for coolness and ORIGINALITY": is that why you went dressed as britney spears' catholic school girl? britney wasn't even being original when she did it.

you should have gone as miss south carolina. this is just the kind of speech she'd make.

Brad Green
posted 11/01/07 @ 10:16 AM EST

Moreover, most of the people on Franklin are bad as that is, when you become intoxicated you lose any inhibitions you may or may not have had while sober. You cant expect to wear a revealing outfit, walk out on Franklin St on Halloween, and not get some attention. I had a girl come onto me last night when I was wearing a full surgeons outfit with bloody hands. People just do stuff like this when they are drunk. For what its worth, your outfit might not make a big difference, since everyone is drunk.

(this one really pissed me off)
posted 11/01/07 @ 11:33 AM EST

Are you seriously asking for respect when you dress like a whore?

Please tell me you don't see the blatant, juicy irony here.

If you want respect, THEN WARRANT RESPECT. If you're dressed as a slut then OF COURSE you're going to be harrassed. Good Lord, you go to Chapel Hill. Figure it out!

No I don't condone sexual harrassment or any of that, blah blah blah blah. No, alcohol is not an excuse blah blah blah, but seriously, women WAKE UP. You're in a situation where you're showing your stuff quite freely, people are drunk and have gloriously-deluded inhibitions. Guys are idiots, yes, but, come on... did you really expect anything different when you're walking around baring all?

If you want to dress aroudn like a prostitute, then expect some sort of backlash!
The last commenter threw in some fat phobia:

posted 11/02/07 @ 9:21 AM EST

Ok, then how about don't dress like an American slut. Make sure you're skirt is at least half-way down the thigh, and don't wear a shirt that could fit a two-year-old baby. Most women are too overweight to pull it off anyway... I've seen some girls around campus and cellulose thighs are NOT appealing and I don't know why they think people want to see them.
There were many more crappy comments—too many to post here—though many of the comments are good, with people saying 'no, this behavior is never justified.'

If things at UNC–Chapel Hill did not seem bad enough …

Today, a student wrote in to say that her ass was grabbed as she walked toward Franklin Street on Halloween. She repeated, unfortunately, the belief that she should be expecting such behavior for dressing like as "Supermanned ho." What happened next is horrifying:

The gross dude says, "Hey Baby! How old are you?"

I lie, "17, lay off me" (I'm 20).

Next thing I know there's a badge and a Breathalyzer in my face. Upon my refusal to be tested, his Alcohol Law Enforcement cohort shoved me against their car, handcuffed me, brought me to court, and I spent a night in jail.

Keep in mind I had absolutely no alcohol on my person, was not drunk and was not stumbling or dancing in the middle of the street swirling my shirt around my head. I was simply walking down a street in my neighborhood with my friends.
So, a plain-clothes (I'm assuming) law enforcement officer, patrolling a neighborhood near Franklin Street, grabbed a student's butt and came onto her to see if she had been drinking and underage. WTF??? She essentially says that he had no reason to suspect that she was drunk and even if he had, why on earth would it be acceptable to violate her then come on to her??? Her letter continues:

However, do your job with some dignity. Do not lead young women through sketchy dark alleys. Do not physically molest them. Do not sexually harass underage drinkers.

I have heard several disturbing accounts such as this one. I am not the first, and I will not be the last.

We (or someone) gave this group power, and this gift is being abused. They must be stopped.
Indeed. Something needs to be done. And I don't mean pulling the plug on the event necessarily; I mean guys need to be told that this is unacceptable! Plain and simple. It is never okay to touch a woman unless she explicitly tells you it's okay. There is no ambiguity here and there is no excuse for such behavior. Period. Some of the guys feel as though there are no rules on Halloween and they have a sort of "get out of jail free" card excusing their poor behavior. And UNC and Chapel Hill authorities need to address this issue. It's a public street near campus where this is happening. They need to do something now.

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