Street Harassment

Written by Rebecca Jackson

Latinas and women around the world are thinking creatively about ending street harassment. From sharing their experiences online, to writing poetry and taking photographs of their harassers, women and girls are doing their part to put an end to the fear and intimidation.

What is street harassment?

StopStreetHarassment-2Street harassment is just a new name for an age-old experience: women and girls receiving unwanted comments or gestures from strangers (mostly men) in public. In a 2010 study, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control identified street harassment as “harassing the victim in a public place in a way that made the victim feel unsafe.” Unfortunately, street harassment happens to ladies of all ages living all over the world. Gabi Deal-Marquez, 23,  recalls that, “catcalls have been a part of my life, a part of growing up as long as I can remember.” In the United States 33.7% of women will experience street harassment in their lifetime. The percentage is even higher for Latinas, 36.1% of whom will experience street harassment. Internationally, studies have shown that anywhere from 70% to 95.5% of women living outside of the U.S will experience street harassment in their lifetime.

Women Fighting Back

While the statistics are bleak, Latina responses to street harassment provide practical guidance on living with street harassment and inspiration for ending it entirely. “Early on I was taught by my mother to keep my eyes open, know where you’re going, look street smart,” says Deal-Marquez. Jocelyn Cardona, 21, shared her techniques for dealing with street harassment, “I want to feel safe when I am walking. Sometimes I would make a funny face or ask them to mind their own business. . . Now I walk down the street and the expression on my face is hard, cold, and unwelcoming.”

While many women can share their methods for avoiding street harassment, it is important to know that street harassment, and sexual violence of all kinds, is never the fault of the victim and always the fault of the person doing the harassing.

Lauri Valerio, 23, shares that “To me [street harassment] represents a power struggle. It seems that when I am cat called or shouted at on the street, or when someone makes those gross kissing noises, it has nothing to do with how hot or not I am and everything to do with the fact that I look vaguely female from where the harasser is standing.” Street harassment is about men displaying power over women and it is unacceptable. Valerio went on to say that “talking about it, for now, may be my main way to find comfort and solidarity and put up a little fight against it.”

The power of talking about street harassment is the founding principle behind Hollaback! “a non-profit and movement to end street harassment powered by local activists in 64 cities and 22 countries.” Research by Hollaback! shows that responding to street harassment, instead of ignoring it, can help women ward-off feelings of isolation and powerlessness. Writing about your experiences, taking a picture of your harasser on your cell phone, and even giving you harasser a pointed glare can help minimize trauma. The organization provides a forum online for women to share their experiences with street harassment, enjoy international solidarity around the issue, and brainstorm ways to end street harassment for good.

Artist Hannah Price uses her camera to respond to street harassers. Price takes photographs of them after they call to her on the street. Price shared with NPR that, “just turning the photograph on them kind of gives them a feel of what it’s like to be in a vulnerable position — it’s just a different dynamic,” Price says. “But it’s just another way of dealing with the experience, of trying to understand it.”

Overcoming Street Harassment

Whatever their age or location, women are taking inspiring and innovative approaches to making  the street a more welcoming place for all of us. You can be a part of that change! Remember that street harassment is never your fault! If you encounter street harassment don’t be afraid to share your experience with Hollaback! or a trusted adult. Older women especially will likely understand your experience and offer you support.  Walking in public in a group may help you feel less threatened if someone yells at you on the street. If your harasser is someone you know report the incident to a trusted family member or teacher. If someone you know is harassing someone else, challenge their behavior if you feel safe doing so. Ask them if they understand how their actions impact others. Tell them it isn’t funny and make your disapproval clear.

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