Did older men ever sexually harass you when you were a girl? 

Last Saturday, I was doing my late night Twitter check-in before heading to an impromptu house party when I was startled by the activity on dream hampton’s timeline. 

“By the time I was 10, I had a body,” read a retweet on the veteran scribe and “Decoded” co-author’s Twitter feed. “I was literally chased by packs of teens and followed by grown men. I was scared to leave home.”

From another woman: “The man (same age as my dad) across the street from my house knew me since I was born, [he] told me at 14 he wanted to take me on a date.”

hampton responded: “I’m crying reading my own friggin timeline.”

I was in near tears myself. I vividly remember how men old enough to drive, and old enough to be my father too, would honk, pull over and holler, asking me to come to or get in their cars. I was 11.

By then, I’d already learned to ignore the attention. But each time it happened, it gave me a profound sense of shame. It wasn’t the men who were vulgar, it was me. Before I was 12, I’d started wearing a girdle to flatten my newly round parts.

There are no hard statistics on how many and how often Black women, one-time Black girls, are hollered after, eye–screwed, and inappropriately approached by men who should be old enough to know better. But as woman after woman purged to hampton, it became clear that harassment by older men was an unfortunate rite of passage — like puberty, periods, and perms. And it hasn’t stopped.

I scrolled down the timeline and found the tweet that sparked this outpouring.

“As a mother of a teenager Black girl I’d like to say: Black girls gets harassed by adult Black men a trillion times more often than Black boys do by pigs,” hampton tweeted. Then she added,  “Correction: as a homicidal mother of a Black teenage girl.”

hampton didn’t detail the experience of “Awesome Daughter” (hampton’s Twitter name for her beloved). She did, however, share her own experience: “I was 5, in a bathing suit at the beach, when a grown man interrupted me from sandcastle building to tell me ‘damn! I wanna’ meet your Mama!” Even at that age, I blamed myself. Assumed it was because my tankini was immodest. I insisted on racy one pieces til I was 30.”

After hours of reading women share their stories, Hampton vowed to make her next documentary about young women and street harassment. “’I’m enraged by the harassment women face,” Hampton tweeted. “But empowered by the sharing of our experiences.”

Do you have an experience to share?

Demetria L. Lucas is the Relationships Editor at ESSENCE and the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. She has recently been nominated for an African American Literary Award. Vote for her now on literaryawardshow.com

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