Larkin Silverman rarely bikes to her work at Advanced Sports International. It’s far, about 17 miles from her South Philly home to ASI’s building in the Far Northeast, and the route can be unpleasant — shattered glass splayed in some of the bike lanes, drivers less attuned to cyclists than they should be and teenage cyclists popping wheelies and riding in the wrong direction.
But May is National Bike Month and National Bike to Work Month. And Silverman is the advocacy coordinator for ASI, which is a bicycle distributor. So she figured on the first work day in May she would bike with an intern. About 10 miles in, she said, a car full of men appeared behind her and pulled into the bike lane. At first, she thought she was about to get hit. Then, Silverman said, a man hanging out the back window groped her.
Her anger quickly mixed with exasperation.
“The fact I was groped and they thought they could do it, I wasn’t’ surprised honestly,” she said. “That’s been kind of my experience.”
The harassment comes not only during a major month for bicycling advocacy but not long after Mayor Jim Kenney publicly expressed the need to stop street harassment. He told Technically Philly in February his dream civic app would be one that lets women document and map these types of incidents.
“I am so sick of street harassment,” he said. “I see it and I scold it and I hate it.”
A woman driving near Silverman saw the whole thing — including the car’s license plate — and asked if she was OK after the car of men had driven away. Silverman called police. Then she waited for 45 minutes. When the officer got there, she said, he didn’t get out of the car.
“I had to lean in through his passenger window,” Silverman said. “It felt very awkward. I told him what happened, and he had a thinly veiled smirk on his face the whole time. He thought it was kind of funny when he was like, ‘Oh they grabbed your bottom. What do you want me to do about it.’
“I understand people make false reports. I’m sure it’s their job to be measured in their responses, but it felt so disempowering to me to sort of get treated as if it was funny.”
Silverman said the officer radioed someone who sounded like a female officer back at the station and things went better from there. She said the department is treating the incident like a sex crime and she’ll go to the Special Victims Unit Wednesday. An officer at the SVU confirmed they were handling the case and that the general protocol is for police precincts to turn over harassment claims to the SVU.
This is far from Silverman’s first problem with street harassment since she moved to Philadelphia in 2012. One time, she said, she biked with her boyfriend to a karaoke bar downtown and a group of men came up behind her while she locked her bike and groped her. Another time while on her bike, someone spat in her face.
In South Philly, a car passing her and her boyfriend on their bikes launched trash at them. They caught up to the car at stoplight and confronted them.
“They were calling us yuppies,” Silverman said. “The woman owning the car was driving a Lexus. At the time we were so broke we were living with my boyfriend’s mom. We ended up going into the precinct and had a very upsetting night. And very frustrating.”
Silverman explained to the officer the scene could have turned violent, and they were worried about what they could do in the future. She said he responded to her, “You should just buy a gun.”
In addition to his comments from earlier this year, Kenney held a City Council hearing on street harassment in 2013. It’s been on his radar for a while. Silverman is not exactly sure how Philadelphia can go about solving this problem. Some of her suggestions are more protected bike lanes and more of an emphasis on sharing the road on Pennsylvania driver’s exams.
This morning, she got back on her bike for the commute. She left at 7, an hour earlier than Monday, and made it to ASI without a similar issue (It wasn’t a completely smooth ride, though. She hit a big pothole, and her bike sustained some minor damage).
Silverman wants the street harassment to end, for her and every other cyclist.
“I treated Facebook like my diary,” Silverman said of a post she made about the incident Monday, “and the posts were just riddled with ‘me too, me too, me too.’”