A version of this article was originally published on VICE Canada.
Women in Ottawa have been raising awareness about a man who is secretly filming his conversations with them in order to teach other men how to talk to women by asking others to share their stories and use the hashtag #corneredinottawa.
So-called pickup artist (or PUA) Luke Howard has become known more as a street harasser to many women in Ottawa, for posting his videos on his YouTube channel Lukeutopia. His videos aim to teach other men how to approach women in the street and be a "daygamer," someone who picks women up on the street during the day rather than at night in a club or bar. (After recent press coverage, the videos became unavailable online.)
So far, Ottawa police have said that filming in public isn't necessarily illegal, although some of that type of behavior could fall under harassment. Some women have already filed complaints with the police. Although Howard has stated that he doesn't feel like his actions have been menacing, many women have been coming forward to call him out on his "work."
An informal group of women have come together over social media to bring more attention to what Howard has been doing. On Sunday, July 19, they got together to talk about what they could do and created the hashtag and a Tumblr page to share stories.
VICE spoke with one of the group's members, Rosella Chibambo, about what some women have come forward talking about, and what the real problem is with PUAs.
"Women have actually secretly telling each other like, Look out for this guy around Ottawa for months before the story broke," Chibambo told VICE. "Because there's a lot of shame associated with coming forward about something like this you get a lot of hate, you get a lot of haters telling you that you're over sensitive or that you're trying to prevent men from talking to people."
The group's Tumblr page is dedicated to sharing stories about run-ins with Howard has been created to help bring more attention to the issue.
One anonymous submission to the page alleges that Howard blocked and grabbed a woman more than once, and that she eventually would run across the street to avoid him. She wrote that she found these incidents disturbing, especially since he recorded them and put them online.
Another anonymous submission says that he told a woman to fuck off when she asked him to leave her alone, on more than one occasion.
In a statement on his blog, Lukeutopia, Howard issued a statement saying, "If a women [sic] ever felt threatened or uncomfortable in my presence then I'm genuinely and truly sorry, that was never my intent."
"The street is very different to being 'cornered' in a bar or club," he went on. "Women are free to walk away at anytime or to simply not engage. That's there [sic] right. The same right you have if a homeless person asks you for money or a charity sign up person try's [sic] to engage you. You can say NO!… This is still a free nation & I'm thankful for that."
Chibambo doesn't fully trust that this apology.
"In terms of how genuine his statement was, I do question that because i think that fact that he didn't realize women felt intimidated by his behavior is definitely questionable," she said. "He knows that behavior is inappropriate."
In an interview with the CBC, Howard said that his whole purpose for these videos was to help men get over their anxiety and fear of talking to women.
"I don't know if it's unethical because my goal was always to show guys that it's not scary to talk to women in the daytime. They're not going to bite your head off," he said. "Ninety-nine percent of women love this, they enjoy it.
"I didn't want to hire actresses, I wanted it to be raw and I wanted it to be real."
But Chibambo has doubts about Howard's claims.
"It became apparent to all of us that this went further than just a couple of people being sort of harassed," she said. "They really were quite disturbing videos of him sort of harassing women, cornering them in the streets of Ottawa attempting to get their numbers.
"Some of the titles of the videos were pretty sexist and racist."
Some titles in a screenshot of Howard's YouTube site when the videos were still available include "Ottawa Day Game Number Close A Colombian Girl," "Daygame Ottawa Number Close a Hot Jamaican Girl," and "Ottawa Daygame Number Close Savannah with a BF."
Pick up artistry is nothing new to Canada. In Toronto, two years ago VICE reported on pickup artists who were trying to invade the Eaton Centre. Pickup artists have also made headlines in Vancouver and Montreal.
Another PUA currently making waves is Roosh Valizadeh (a.k.a. Roosh V), an American who is planning to visit Toronto and Montreal to give talks on how to treat women. There is already a petition to keep him out of Canada.
According to the petition, Roosh is the creator and administrator of the website Return of Kings, a site that "aims to usher the return of the masculine man in a world where masculinity is being increasingly punished and shamed in favor of creating an androgynous and politically-correct society that allows women to assert superiority and control over men."
"One of the key similarities with all these sort of PUA people is that they really do prey on women's insecurities and they dehumanize women," Chibambo said. "So they're not based on the assumption that women are human beings with the right to do what they want and speak to who they want and go where they want, without being intimidated they're based on this idea that women are there as prey."
Chibambo hopes that women will keep using the hashtag and that this issue will gain more attention "as a mechanism for women in Ottawa to be able to share stories if they have them and know first and foremost that they weren't alone in this experience and know that the experience wasn't appropriate, it wasn't right for them to feel like that."
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