Observers
Screen shot of amateur video of Briggs berating a subway sex offender.
 
She’s the woman every woman dreams of being when confronted with a sexual harasser. When Nicola Briggs noticed the exposed penis of a man standing much too close to her in a New York subway in early September, she didn’t recoil in disgust, but gave her offender the verbal lashing he deserved.
 
“That’s it!” she screamed at the flabbergasted flasher. “Oh, you’re getting f***ing arrested! I’m not leaving your side! My plans are done for tonight.”
 
An amateur  video shows the offender clutching a bag over his front to hide his groin as other subway riders crowd around. One tries to take a picture of his reportedly condom-clad penis.
 
The man, identified as 51-year-old Mario Valdivia, was arrested and charged with forcible touching, public lewdness and sex abuse. A known sex offender, he served jail time and will reportedly be deported to Mexico.
 
The identity of the woman remained unknown until November 24, when Briggs broke her silence in an interview with CBS 2. She explained that the offender had tried to get away, but that she and other men on the train blocked him and kept the suspect there until the police arrived.
 
The video has been viewed nearly 500,000 times on YouTube and made headlines in the United States, giving sexual harassment victims worldwide a reason to celebrate as the world marks the International day for the elimination of violence against women.
 
Warning: This video contains explicit language.
Video posted on YouTube on September 4 by asafoetida.

“This video proves that having the courage to speak out, loudly, can have more effect than women think”

Emily May is co-founder of Hollaback!, a website and international grassroots movement that encourages women to speak out against sexual harassment. The site was one of the first to publish the video of this subway incident.
 
We were sent the video by a reader who had come across it on YouTube, and posted it immediately on our Website. Although we don’t know who that incredibly brave woman is [interview conducted before Briggs revealed her identity on CBS2], she epitomizes everything that Hollaback stands for. Not only does she speak out, but she is determined to bring her harasser to justice.
 
The reaction of our readers when they saw this video was: Wow. She’s my hero. This is because sexual harassment crimes are usually crimes that tend to be silenced, in part because of the shame they provoke in victims. Most women’s instinct, when confronted to a situation like this one, is to flee as fast as possible. Sometimes, especially when no other people are around, this is probably the safest attitude to adopt. But this video proves that having the courage to speak out, loudly, against the harasser can have more effect than we think.
 
Take a photo or video of your offender: it can always serve as evidence later
 
The role of cell phone cameras and new media is also particularly important here. If the people who witnessed the scene in the subway hadn’t taken their cameras out and decided to post the incident on YouTube then the woman’s reaction would still have been brave, but the story would have stopped there. In this case, the video allowed the offender to be arrested, charged and serve jail time. That’s why we at Hollaback encourage women – or anybody who witnesses an offence - to take a photo or video of their offender: it can always serve as evidence later.
 
We also encourage people to tell the story of their encounter with sexual harassment by posting it on our website. The scope and seriousness of the problem of “routine” harassment (catcalling, groping, inappropriate remarks) is little known and underestimated because of the taboo surrounding it. The Internet can be like one big campfire where we can talk about the issue and raise awareness, signaling to other victims of harassment that they are not alone.
 
When I saw this video, I thought of a recent anti-groping campaign that Hollaback and New Yorkers for Safe Transit  jointly sponsored in the New York Subway. I can’t help but hope that women like the one in the video saw those ads and have it in the back of their mind that harassment is not OK, that they are right to speak out and will be supported.
Post written with France 24 journalist Lorena Galliot.