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When several Harvard women were disturbed by strange phone calls last week, news of a mysterious man called “The Whisperer” (a.k.a, “The Prowler”) quickly traveled over e-mail lists. This unsavory character, we learned, has harassed Harvard women via their red phones before, and, despite a police order to stop in 2001, has done it again every two years of the last six. Sometimes he just asks for someone to hold; sometimes his language is more vulgar.
In response, the police gave the advice any parent would give about that horrid playground bully of grade school—just hang up and ignore him. But this was apparently not enough for some survivors of the verbal attack, who reported feeling “terrified,” reduced to tears, or deeply disturbed. Some—it should be said, not all—women wanted the man tracked down and stopped. The police should do something, they said.
The whole event had a peculiarly Victorian feel: the Prowler, a ruthless, soft-voiced pervert victimizing defenseless women in their own homes. It didn’t seem strange to anyone that some of these empowered, independent women, singled out purely for their sex, had felt shattered by his words. And many found it perfectly reasonable that, despite the lack of any apparent danger, the police should be called upon to take action, to come down hard on this creep, and stop him.
Harassment can be scary, and not always for logical reasons. But frightening events don’t always entitle us to revenge, especially if the crime amounts to a technologically advanced version of catcalling. In the wake of these whispered phone calls, it’s foolish to ask why the police won’t act. Instead, we should ask why it is that women can be so easily made to feel unsafe and what would drive a man to this petty serial stalking.
Juliet S. Samuel ’09, a Crimson associate editorial chair, is a social studies concentrator in Eliot House.
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