A survey conducted in 2014 on the topic of street harassment discovered that 65% of women in the United States have been victimized by street harassment in some way. Of those, upwards of 23% had been sexually assaulted or been physically threatened in some manner. A similar study found that 90% of women in Britain had experienced street harassment before the age of 17.
What is Street Harassment?
What constitutes street harassment? Most street harassment is verbal, coming in the form of lewd or other unwelcome comments, whistling or kissing noises, or claims that someone doesn’t belong in a public space. Sometimes, though, street harassment escalates to the physical, with blocking someone’s path, making vulgar gestures, and grabbing or groping.
A short film released in 2014 documented all of the harassment of a woman carrying a hidden camera as she walked around New York City. The woman walked through the city for ten hours in modest dress without saying a word or interacting with any of the men who approached her. They document over a hundred instances of verbal harassment.
Clearly, street harassment is a societal issue. And while the majority of victims of street harassment are women, men and gender nonconforming individuals can also be the targets of harassment of some sort. So if street harassment is such a major problem, why can’t it be addressed?
How Can Street Harassment Be Avoided?
Unfortunately, much of the advice geared toward preventing street harassment is centered on women. Suggestions like changing the way they dress and altering their walking route are often bandied about as if street harassment is just a mild inconvenience and not a threat against them.
The onus to end street harassment shouldn’t be put on the victims. It needs to be placed on the perpetrators and those most likely to be perpetrators: men.
I am well aware that not all men commit street harassment. But the majority of street harassers are men. Obviously, men need to be part of the solution to this problem. So how can they do that?
Men Need to Step Up to Help Stop Street Harassment.
Firstly, men can stop harassing women on the street. If you see a woman and you feel the need to compliment her or try to get her attention, try not doing that. Being in control of your own actions is the best way to make changes. That woman is not interested in your opinion of her eyes, her hair, or any other part of her body.
She has things to do and places to be. She’s likely not looking for a love connection on the checkout line at the supermarket. She’s on the subway to get to work, not find a new boyfriend. There are certain places she’ll go to make a romantic connection, like a club or a dating app. (That said, just because you find her in those places doesn’t give you free reign to be gross. Commenting on a woman’s body is not the way to win her heart.)
Secondly, if you see someone harassing a woman on the street, say something. Tell him that his actions are unnecessary, and remind him that the woman has a right to exist without being catcalled. It’s likely the man may not appreciate your opinion on the matter, but it may distract him long enough to allow the woman to be far enough away to no longer be a target, which she will likely appreciate. (But that doesn’t mean she owes you anything for helping.)
The Fight For Change is Real.
There are a few non-profit organizations fighting against street harassment and violence. Hollaback!, the organization that funded the short film mentioned above, have been training people to respond to and intervene in incidents of street harassment since 2005. Stop Street Harassment is another organization dedicated to educating the public to accept street harassment as a serious issue. Some cities, like New York, have even instituted campaigns to promote awareness of street harassment, as well as creating hotlines for victims of harassment to report their harassers.
Street harassment and violence against women isn’t an epidemic that can be halted overnight, but it is an issue that can be overcome. By respecting women’s bodies and their right to exist unmolested, street harassment can eventually become part of a bygone era, but that goal will only be achieved if more men stand up and help. This isn’t a battle that women can fight on their own.