Recently I spent six months studying in Melbourne. I'm a relatively tall, 19 year old Californian: light brown hair, athletic build, lucky enough to be classified in the societal definition of beauty (at least on Tinder).
While in Melbourne, I lived in Carlton, spending most of my time in the CBD and the eastern suburbs where a cousin of mine resided. I frequented Melbourne Central, Queen Vic Market, Sister Bella and Chapel Street, where I had a bi-weekly gymnastics class. Generally, I walked alone to and from all these places.
Coming from California and the States in general, I've had my fair share of street harassment. I'm 100 per cent prepared to hit my attacker with a throat punch, key to the eye, knee to the crotch or elbow to the stomach.
It doesn't matter that under the California Penal Code 'an individual who solicits anyone to engage in or who engages in lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view' is charged with a misdemeanour. The laws against street harassment are not enough to discourage American men from catcalling, from gathering on the sidewalk and blocking women from passing, from following women or from physically grabbing women, at least in my own experience.
Victoria (and most other Aussie states) have similar street harassment laws: Section 17 of the Summary Offences Act 1966 (VIC) states that it is a criminal offence to use 'profane indecent or obscene language or threatening abusive or insulting words' in or near a public place or within the view or hearing of any person in a public place. For my first few weeks in Australia, it seemed to me that Aussie men were more law-abiding than American men. I had been completely left alone, and felt more confident because of it.
Then came the day I walked from Carlton to Melbourne Central at 11am, in broad daylight and only on busy streets (I was feeling safe but still wasn't about to be stupid). I'm minding my own business, walking quickly and consistently glancing at my phone to make sure I'm still following the path Google Maps laid out for me.
At one point, I glance up and see a group of six builders, three conveniently placed on either side of the sidewalk. I can't cross the street without running into cars and I can't go around them. I'm left recalling an old nursery rhyme: 'Can't go around it, can't go over it, can't go under it, got to go through it!'
Knowing that I haven't run into trouble the first month of my Australian residency, I set my jaw and continue on my way. 'Hey girl where are you going today?' The line and situation is suddenly so cliche I almost can't write about it because no one would believe me.
"I half-ran away, crying because I was scared. I wasn't physically hurt and I'm grateful for that, but I was terrified, and didn't look at Melbourne the same way afterwards."
I choose to not reply, and continue walking. Then one of the builders extends his tape measure all the way across the sidewalk, the most obvious innuendo in the history of street harassment. I frantically push it out of the way and start walking faster, away from the laughter and the cries of 'good we like watching you walk away'.
I couldn't believe it. It was the most obvious example of street harassment ever. Builders? Check. Cheesy pickup lines? Check. Innuendos? Check. Trying to prevent a woman from moving away? Check. It could've been a lot worse. Something worse happened to me in California. But this situation got my heart beating. It's six, large, capable men. They can do anything they want to me. I can't prevent it from happening if they decide they need to do more than look. I half-ran away, crying because I was scared. I wasn't physically hurt and I'm grateful for that, but I was terrified, and didn't look at Melbourne the same way afterwards.
Back in California, 80 per cent of my female friends have dealt with some form of sexual harassment, and around 40 per cent have been raped. That surprises a lot of Australians. And that's good. In general, yes I would say Aussies are better than Americans when it comes to violence against women. But the cliches are still around. And they need to stop.
Sara Vukojevic is a young student of human biology. Despite her interest in a career in the sciences, Sara seems to always be writing. She has a lot of opinions and a lot of hope. She hopes to instill that hope in her readers.
Comments should be short, respectful and on topic. Email is requested for identification purposes only.
18 July 2017
Sara, it's lovely to read that you are "always writing" and have "a lot of opinions and a lot of hope". Infinitely more powerful words than the lexicon of male abuse of women. It's disturbing that men feel entitled to harass women of any age. Keep enjoying your time in Melbourne and keep writing!
19 July 2017
Ditto to Pam. Am so sorry for your experience Sara. I am many, many years older than you and have been so confused all my life as to why so many men believe it is their right to harass women. Perhaps we women have to keep on speaking out in louder voice and in writing like yours. Try to enjoy your continued stay in Melbourne - I used to love visiting a daughter and would walk the same streets. Thank you for speaking out.
19 July 2017
Sara, thank you for sharing this appalling experience. My question is - how is it that our boys and men are not educated by parents, but teachers, by peers about the brutality of such conduct?
19 July 2017
Good Sara, as a Sydney-born male closet-feminist I am appalled at your story. My parents and my church instilled in me great respect for all females. Humphrey Bogart said, "There ain't nuttin wrong with a dame that a good smack in the kisser won't fix." ... fully alien to me and Raymonde 54 years together. Women are always right 51% of the time! Blessings from Gauvain Gavino Gavin Gawain Kevin ... 96 yrs old 
19 July 2017
Thanks for this 'wake up' call, Sara. Everyone has a right to feel safe, and you were denied that on the street.
Shocked at the dreadful stats - 40% of your friends raped. Voices such as yours will help us keep improving things.
Mary La Bruna
19 July 2017
What a frightening experience for you, Sara. Totally inexcusable. It is incredible to think that these immature men that you unfortunately came across, would take the liberty of such unacceptable behaviour in our streets or anywhere else. They need to learn the basics of human decency. They are a disgrace to all males who also loathe such behaviour and treat women, and men, with the utmost respect. All the best for the future.
19 July 2017
Sara Thank You. Have you any ideas as to how to confront this issue especially with a group of men such as these workers ?
I am sorry that you and other women have to experience such gutless behaviours.
19 July 2017
I'm a little shaken by your 40% figure for friends raped in California. I harbour no illusions about Australia being "better" than elsewhere. That figure is appalling, anywhere.
20 July 2017
The fact that you've taken the time to publicly share your ordeal speaks volumes of your courage. As a 54 year old Marxist feminist, and father of two daughters I'm disgusted at the threatening and intimidating behaviour of this group of men and encourage you to keep addressing the issue of sexism and female abuse publicly. These bullies should be held accountable for their actions.
21 July 2017
You paint a scene of unease, but you state you did not feel unsafe. I'm glad of that.
If I could say, you don't sound like a shrinking violet. You sound savvy, modern. You even, (unwisely in my opinion), mention Tinder in your lead in.
Could you not have used the moment to 'let fly' your outrage, and turn the tables with some choice remarks; after all bullies are cowards, they may have thought for next time.
Men (and women) often need to be challenged in their thinking about what they think is harmless and funny with their mates, can get a very different reaction from a young modern woman as in your case.
Hopefully as you mature you will be able to speak up in the moment next time, thus ensuring your 'walking away' would have a very different residual effect on you.