Harassing me will not help your cause

“Hey, gorgeous,” he says. I speed up my pace; he follows me. “I just want to talk to you.”

The next one stands right in front of me. “Just give me two minutes,” he says. “I only want to talk to you.”

“You’ve got a pretty smile,” another says with a creeping grin. “Come and talk to me.” He tries to grab my arm. I walk away, as fast as I can.

These interactions happen on a regular basis. Often it’s the usual, the leery-beery tiresome street harassment of daily life, the drunks, the creeps, the men who want to make women feel uncomfortable.

Sometimes, they are not. The men in the incidents outlined above are wearing bibs and told to harass women in the street by major charities. The techniques employed are identical. The objectifying icebreaker. The assertion that they “only want to talk”. The unwanted contact, the grabbing, the following.

The only differences between “chugging” and bog-standard street harassment is the bib, and the fact that you know exactly what it is that the chugger wants.

Having lived and worked in central London for several years now, I have had plenty of contact with chuggers, and witnessed many other incidents. I’ve noticed that the men always go for women, and the women for men. I’ve noticed they pick off people walking alone rather than groups. I’ve noticed they don’t really like to take “no” for an answer.

And I wonder, do such tactics actually work?

It costs the charities a lot of money, outsourcing their fundraising to other companies. It costs the charities money dealing with cancelled direct debits. Is there really much net gain from employing tactics which are at best incredibly annoying?

On a personal level, I disinclined to engage with a man who follows me and shouts at me. I get it enough on a daily basis that I really couldn’t give two shits if that man is doing it to get a bit of money for a spa for blind donkeys rather than to try to have sex with me or frighten me or tell me he likes the bounce of my walk. It’s all the same to me. It’s unwanted contact with a man who will not let me be.

When I have a man standing in front of me, blocking my movement, breathing rum-fumes in my face as he asks for my number, I find the smell of rum turns my stomach and renders me unable to enjoy mojitos for a while. It is exactly the same when a man stands in front of me, blocking my movement, wearing an Action Aid bib and asking for my number. It kind of makes me hostile towards Action Aid, as I associate the charity with ugly patriarchal harassment.

I wonder, are chuggers trained to do this? Are they told, perhaps, to flirt a bit, to break the ice? If so, they are going about it in completely the wrong way, rendering themselves indistinguishable from the oppression of day-to-day walking while female. It is a grotesque parody of social interaction, nothing more than low-level stalking with all of the emotional intelligence of a particularly obnoxious wasp. The only way I could remotely imagine such tactics could possibly be effective is that some people will acquiesce to the chugger’s demand and give up money to make them go away.

If that is the case, charities really need to ask themselves whether doing this is worth it. I simply cannot get on board with any charity that pays men money to harass me in the street. For one, it’s fucking unpleasant. On top of that, there are plenty of men who will do that for free.

Charity is supposed to be nice and good. So why are they paying to upset women?

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37 responses to “Harassing me will not help your cause

  • sciamachy

    They upset me too, & I’m a biggish bloke. I’m all charitied out – literally all the disposable income I could possibly give to charities is already being taken by direct debit each month by the charities I want to support – Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Plan, various left wing organisations including Labour, the Cooperative party, Fabians, Unite. If I get signed up by any more I’ll be slowly sliding into bankruptcy, so their cheery way-blocking tends to be met with a snarled “FUCK OFF!”

  • Queen Lily (@fire_brand)

    “I wonder, are chuggers trained to do this? Are they told, perhaps, to flirt a bit, to break the ice? ”

    Yes, they are. A friend was a chugger for a while, and they advise you to pick out an element of someones outfit, or hair colour, and to compliment them if possible. Make a ‘personal connection’, in so much as you can with only 10 seconds of exposure to someone.

    Having lived on Highbury Corner for a couple of years (meaning there were always chuggers right outside my front door), I hate them with a passion. There are people literally waiting outside just so that they can approach you and comment on your appearance – trying to deal with that every day when you might just want to run to the corner shop in your pyjama’s for some milk gets really unnerving after a while.

    I very strongly feel that, aside from the dodgy nature of these encounters, I do not think it’s appropriate for a stranger to come up and ask you to justify why you won’t support their cause. I also think that I don’t want to pay that charity more money to spend on more chuggers to stand and harass us.

  • Victo

    Interesting post, and I completely agree with you that it’s unacceptable for street fundraisers to use street harassment style techniques to get your attention. I, too, have had them comment on my clothes and call out “hey red” or “hey tattoo girl” to get me to stop. I have worked for a few charities that use street fundraisers so, while I don’t want to defend the gross interaction you’re witnessing, I hope I can shed some light on how I think it happens and how we can stop it.

    First, yes you’re right that most street fundraisers are employed by agencies. As a side note, a great deal of charity fundraising (via telephone, post, tv, newspaper inserts, online campaigns etc) is done by agency – the costs just work out better for the organisation. Yes street fundraising is expensive, but to give but one example, the charity I currently work for depends on street fundraising for 60% of their income. Television ads and full-page newspaper ads run into the millions and don’t generate near the same sort of results.

    From my personal observations, I think the problem is occurring where agencies (and by extension the fundraisers working for them) feel enormous pressure to achieve targets set by charity fundraising managers who are sometimes more interested in a spreadsheet showing a good return on investment rather than taking a look at how those interactions play out in public. And this must end – charities must take full responsibility for the message rather than outsourcing bad behaviour. Charities and agencies alike must hear the message that the public will not stand for disrespectful approaches. I’ve seen street fundraising work without any gimmicks or harassment so I know it’s totally possible.

    One way to make a difference right now is to COMPLAIN when you experience a bad interaction. Those complaints going to the charity really, really do make a difference. You can also contact the PFRA at http://www.pfra.org.uk/. Finally, I would suggest to others that, short of being insulted by the fundraiser, that screaming FUCK OFF in someone’s face is not a great way of venting. They are human beings, often ones that are doing the job because they actually care, and should be treated with the same basic dignity you would like to be treated with yourself. I find a polite “sorry, no, but good luck” suffices.

  • Jessica

    Brilliant blog post.

    I once had a loud, panicked reaction to a chugger who had first blocked my path, then backed me up against a wall. I felt trapped, he was taller and bigger than I am (noteworthy, since I’m very tall for a woman), and I ended up having to scream to get him to back off when my repeated ‘no’ was ignored.

    There’s a creepy entitlement that if they’re representing a charity, they can do whatever is necessary to get attention. There’s no thought to the fact that women are routinely approached, grabbed and followed on the street and don’t really need that kind of behaviour sponsored by a national organisation.

  • katmusselwhite

    I once had a female “chugger” approach me boyfriend and I, she turned to look directly at me, totally blanking the boyfriend out, and just said “How would you feel if your child was disabled?”

    I can not even begin to express how angry this made me, for several reasons:

    1. Targeting me (the female) with emotional blackmail is just downright disgusting

    2. I have a disabled (in body, not in mind) brother so to use something like that was just ARGH-inducing!

    She made me so angry, and I do not know why charities bother. You hardly ever see anyone actually talking to them, and their approach is so creepy.

    The worst ones are the ones that really lay all the “nicey-nice” talk on thick, and then when you politely say that you are (genuinely) in a hurry, you often hear them make snide remarks at your back. And they wonder why no one wants to talk to them!!??

    Charities take note: We do not like you. Pee off!! And if we do like you, we’re already giving money through charity shops, fundraisers etc!!

    • David Sanderson

      One tried that on me, I replied, ‘If you don’t move out of my way now, you’ll be fucking disabled’, it worked but it was probably not the best thing to say. My new approach is probably more advisable.

  • @esther_freeman

    These people don’t actually work for the charities, and they should be making that clear when they talk to you. They are employed by special agencies who must abide by the Institute of Fundraising code of conduct. The code certainly does not recommend flirting and drinking would definitely be off limits. I’ve never experienced such extreme behaviour (probably my ice maiden aura) but if you do you should definitely report it to the charity. I’m sure they would be appalled to hear your stories.

    I’m not a fan of chuggers, but I understand why charities use them. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth for example rely 100% on public funding as they don’t want to compromise their work by taking money from Governments or business. However there are issues about how these agencies work, and how much the charities know about what goes on in their names. The more the public share their experiences directly with the charities, the more these agencies will have to start sharpening up their act and start working in a more responsible way.

  • cakeagainstcuts

    I had this exact experience today (and in fact tweeted about it before I saw this more eloquent piece). I think it must work a bit or they wouldn’t do it – they are pretty poorly paid anyway.

    When I was younger – more naive, less political, more insecure and, er, more employed – than I am now, this tactic did work and I signed up to a direct debit (which I don’t really resent and do still pay) mainly because a cute boy flirted me into doing so. I can’t be the only one, can I?

  • Mark (@biondino)

    Interestingly I almost always get approached by male chuggers. Admittedly it wouldn’t be too much of a leap to assume they think I’m gay, but I can’t assume that’s the case.

    The reason they approach people walking alone is because you don’t have a ready-made excuse not to interact with them. It’s just resource management ratehr than anything more sinister – although I have no doubt some chuggers use more sinister techniques, especially on women.

  • Gorse

    I work in a very busy street of my town and have to deal with at least one of these people every time I leave the office to buy lunch, smoke a cigarette, etc, etc. Even though it’s often the same people, they’ll still try and stop me each time. However, the worst thing I ever did was (in the attempt to get the street collector off my back) was to give my mobile number to the NSPCC. Now I get unsolicited calls, the first of which told me a long and graphic tale of multiple child abuses, in an attempt to guilt trip me into giving them some money. I’m not an especially assertive person. These days I just hang up on them when they call. I find that thoroughly unacceptable.

  • gherkinette

    I refuse point blank to support any charity that uses chuggers. I object to anyone trying to impose their belief on me in a space that doesn’t belong to either of us and thus should be neutral like the street. I also don’t like the implicit guilting you in front of other people to shame you into giving. The one upmanship infuriates me…plus on the few occasions I’ve stopped, they never know anything specific about the charities beyond doing their basic training.

    And yes, the harrassment. I was once pinned against a window and physically prevented from moving by a male chugger on Regent Street. I had a full blown panic attack, a passerby actually called a police officer over because I was so distressed and yet I was made to feel that I was just being over sensitive even though the bibbed bastard had actually assaulted me and I have a history of PTSD after a rape in Central London. And complaining to Oxfam got me nowhere at all on that occasion.

    I don’t give a crap if they don’t like being snarled at in the street. Don’t harrass me, follow me, frighten me, catcall me, guilt me, cajole me, shame me, try and block my path all in the name of charity. Respect my privacy and my right to walk the street unmolested and I might not have to fight back a panic attack every single time I go past a Tube station. I’m not screaming ‘fuck off’ because I don’t care about starving whales, it’s because my flight or fight mechanism is fully engaged by your behaviour and I’m being triggered and can’t control my manners while trying not to throw up on myself or cry. Sorry my naked terror spoils your day…but learn to back off please. Charity does not excuse all behaviours.

  • Ruth

    This is really interesting- I’d never made the connection between sexist street harassment and chuggers before, (although I’ve certainly felt harassed) but now you’ve pointed it out is seems so obvious. What perhaps bothers me the most is the way it ends: if a guy comes up to you and asks for your phone number you know, if you don’t find a nice enough way to say no, there’s a good chance they’ll turn to insults.

    With chuggers, if some days I don’t have the mental energy to deal with people getting in my space, I just ignore them. This is met with sarcastic comments like ‘friendly aren’t you’.
    The worst one was when a chugger came up to me and ended his pitch with ‘I really need your help, baby girl.’ I raised my eyebrows and said ‘baby girl?’ and walked off. So he followed up with ‘have a nice day, bitch.’

    Also, cancer charities opening with ‘do you know anyone affected by cancer?’ Ugh.

    • David Sanderson

      One classic encounter, which I now regret in some ways was when a really patronising chugger approached in an ‘In your face’ kind of way, he was completely over the top and I could tell he was convinced I was going to tell him, a complete stranger, my bank details, anyway, I feigned interest, took a look around to make sure the coast was clear, asked him for his clipboard, which I then threw like a frisbee, gave him a cool ‘No thanks, mate’ and walked off, the look on his face was priceless. If you ever try this one, make sure you have a good aim and don’t hit an innocent passer by, the funniest part was about a dozen pieces of paper went flying everywhere and when I turned around to look, he was desperately trying to catch them all at once.

  • small matryoshka (@ffingy)

    Has anyone experienced the doorstep chugger? They use all the tactics of street chuggers, e.g. flattery, guilt tripping, plus keeping-up-with-the-Jones stuff (“do you know Lucy from three doors down? She just donated x”). I explained to the guy that I would rather donate after I’d researched his charity online and he predictably wouldn’t accept this (no money in that for him). I had to close the door in his face but it was unsettling that someone would harrass me so close to my home.

  • David Edwards

    chuggers are not employed by anyone rather used and self-employed whose remuneration depends on your DD signature

  • Cel

    These people are why I will no longer give to charity. Change the system for the better, get rid of the need for paying people to harass others in the street.

  • Jack

    I used to work as a door-to-door fundraiser. The whole ethos is about making people donate (and you only got ‘bonus’ for signups of £8.67 a month plus gift aid which meant pressuring people into giving more than they wanted to a lot of the time). Despite the protestations that this was an ‘ethical company’ and we never exploited or bullied people into giving there was at best a very fine line between what we did and bullying. If people said anything other than ‘no’, you had to ‘objection handle’ them – for example, we had some counterarguments to things like ‘I don’t have the money’ or whatever to try and make people donate. I was profoundly uncomfortable with using these and as a result didn’t get many signups. Many of my colleagues did not feel the same way.

    It is not a nice job to do. ‘Voluntary’ unpaid ‘breakfast clubs’ (that you had to turn up to), long travelling (getting in from a shift allegedly ending at 9pm by 11 was an early finish), constant pressure to get results combined with ignorance of local areas and the belief that ‘you can get signups anywhere’ all combined for a pretty dreadful experience. You were paid from 3.30 til 9, minus a half-hour unpaid break (which was, in practice, rarely 30 minutes long) but expected to be prepared to travel from 2pm and only paid travelling time if you were on target – ie, rarely. This meant that on ‘breakfast club’ days you could be in work or travelling from 1pm to 11pm and only given 5 hours’ basic pay. At least we got pay, though – some work for commission only.

    We were, at least, not as aggressive from the start as street fundraisers – though you might say we’d already committed an act of aggression by turning up unannounced at someone’s door. Ultimately, I had significant moral issues with it all and that was one of the reasons I quit – but, on the other hand, it works. Charities hire agencies and companies like the one I worked for because it gets them long-term donors (which is what they’re after for budgeting and planning purposes) at a fairly low cost. The challenge is to do that without overstepping the line. I’m not sure how that could be done in the industry as it stands, or even if it could be done at all – unionising is difficult as the staff turnover rate is very high, complaints are attended to but not to great avail and the industry thinks it’s doing a great job so probably won’t self-regulate further. Statutory regulation is one answer but that would require a fair amount of campaigning time and resources.

    (Sorry, this is a monster comment, but I thought it might be interesting to some people to get a sort of inside view as to what it’s like. Chugging isn’t nice for everyone involved.)

    • sevenhelz

      Ha, I know exactly who you worked for. I was at the same company for seven months, in one of the northern branches.

      Stavvers (et al); they’re not all bad. Sorry, but they’re not. I’ve been told repeatedly by fundraising friends that it’s different in London, that you do have to be pushier, and I can believe it; but equally, somebody above linked PFRA? All fundraisers should have a copy of that code on them and should be following it. They should not be blocking your way. Oh, and rules about it have tightened up a lot over the last decade (since F2F fundraising began) so some of the horror stories which have put people off are from quite some time ago. I’m not saying all fundraisers are great, or even non-manipulative, but we ain’t all bad either.

  • Jess

    I was walking home through town the day I found out that I had to reapply for my job, with tears running down my face when a fundraiser from Shelter stopped me, asked me if I had a good day and if I had a smile ‘for him’. I was so gobsmacked at how obviously rude and inappropriate a thing this was to say to anyone, never mind a clearly distressed person I just ran, he then called after me ‘so you don’t care about the homeless’. I had a major panic attack, which I hadn’t done after an intensive course of therapy over the last 18 months. When I rang Shelter they apologuised but said that this person didn’t work for them, but for a company they outsourced to. The woman on the phone was amazingly supportive, to be fair to them, but when I finally tracked down the company this man worked for they never responded to any letters and the only number I could find for them was a recruitment hotline!

  • David Sanderson

    The best way to deal with chuggers is to blank them, trust me, it works every time, don’t engage in a conversation, don’t say ‘I’m busy’ or resort to telling them to go away in no uncertain terms, just ignore them and keep walking, I now deliberately walk through the part of they congegrate in town when I see a group of chuggers, even if I have no reason to walk through that particular area, try it for yourself.

    As for doorstep, chuggers I always look through the spyhole, I won’t go to the door if I don’t know the person I made that mistake once around election time, I go to an upstairs window, open it, ask who they are and if it’s a chugger, “Go away, NOW and I mean NOW or I’ll be downstairs and let the Alsatian/Rotweiller/Doberman (delete where applicable) out, usually works, It’s amazing how quickly they leave. We are in the process of having a private access gate fitted which will solve the latter problem.

  • Genevieve

    Ugh, this reminds me how a few years ago I was hoodwinked into going for a ‘job interview’ at a doorstep chugger agency in disguise. They put adverts in local papers for vacancies in ‘exciting new marketing roles’. I spent ages filling out forms, got all dressed up in my professional best, and sat down full of hope in a group interview full of other young people. Then before we knew what was happening the whole group of us was on a bus (fare paid by us) to a random employee’s skanky shared house, who then proceeded to explain what the ‘marketing’ position was – an unpaid, commission only door to door chugging job. Only she tried to make it sound like a good thing. Then the whole group was supposed to traipse round door to door with her. Needless to say, I was right back on the bus. Same thing happened to my housemate a couple of years ago, only he cottoned on earlier than I did and told them in the interview room where they could stick it.

    I can see why it makes financial sense for charities to outsource their dirty work, but some of the techniques these agencies use are simply deplorable.

  • sevenhelz

    Hm. Some of the best (and some of the worst) people I’ve ever met have been fundraisers. They’re not a monolith.

    I wrote about fundraising here: http://sevenhelz.dreamwidth.org/285199.html

  • ooh

    When I’m not busy and attacked by chuggers, I stay around and politely harrass them. I get into long and involved arguments about the ethics of chugging, discuss alternative employment for them, their lack of acting skills and how horrific it is to feel like a gazelle stalked by lions (I’ve had them run alongside me). After a while, they walk away, so I follow them up the street, still continuing the argument in a chirpy, unceasing and rational manner. I consider it a victory when I ‘break’ one of them and get an angry response.

    The worst chugging introduction I ever had was when a female chugger actually crouched down to talk to me at eye-level and said “Aren’t you sweet?”. I am female, five foot two and forty. I broke her eventually by discussing her performative techniques at great length even while she was trying to chug someone else. Although I suppose that’s bad feminism in a way because she started to feel so harrassed by my presence that she called her line manager over to get rid of me.

  • Edinburgh: Ban Chuggers | Edinburgh Eye

    [...] Stavvers’ reaction in 2011: “You’ve got a pretty smile,” another says with a creeping grin. “Come and talk to me.” He tries to grab my arm. I walk away, as fast as I can. [...]

  • Ian

    Today I was approached twice on the same stretch by three of these salesmen working for friends of the earth (In Bromsgrove High Street). The first was polite enough when I said I wasn’t interested then on the second pass this one person had been joined by two others, this time one approached me directly repeatedly stepping in my path in order to stop me getting by. At what stage does this become harassment I wonder?

  • niamh O'mara

    I’m an eighteen year old ‘chugger’, i am a woman and a feminist. I feel that the way these people you have encountered were wrong. However i think it is awful that you have written off the whole idea of street fundraising ESPECIALLY as you have not supported your arguement with suffice facts…street fundraising helps alot and there are many of us out there who are gentle and patient with our approach. It’s a hard job and should be respected because we make a difference.

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