Blog

What is street harassment & what can I do?

street harassment | on October, 31, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Street harassment is the top story on The Today Show this morning and has been covered by every major media outlet this week.

So if you’re just learning about this issue and/or us, welcome. Here are a few quick things to know:

What it is:

Street harassment is any unwanted action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender or sexual orientation or gender expression. It happens in every country and disproportionately to all women and to men in the LGBQT community.

It impacts harassed persons’ ability to navigate through and be in public spaces and thus is a human rights violation. It is part of the same continuum as sexual violence as it can escalate into it (and we never know when) and it can be retriggering for survivors of sexual violence.

History of the Issue:

Since at least the late 1800s, women have been speaking out and challenging street harassment. The term was first used in 1981 and the first website about it where women could share their stories launched in 2000 by the Street Harassment Project.

Women of color have led many of these efforts, in more recent times, they have done amazing work through the Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team, Girls for Gender Equity, Stop Telling Women to Smile, Brooklyn Movement Center, the Window Sex Project, and #YouOkSis?

History of Stop Street Harassment:

This website began in 2008 to fill a gap in information/resources about the topic — it grew from my master’s thesis on the subject at George Washington University, which I began research for in 2006. I wrote one of the only books on street harassment in 2010, Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women, and commissioned a nationally representative survey on street harassment this year.

What we Do/Get involved:

Currently, SSH does a lot of education and community mobilization work.

* You can share your story.

* You can find suggestions for dealing with street harassers as well as the relevant USA laws

* You can find information on being a male ally and how to talk to women with respect.

* You can find toolkit guides for taking action in your community on this topic.

* You can read articles from our blog correspondents in 9 countries to learn about the problem globally. (We will be recruiting a new cohort of correspondents in December.)

* You can get an update on the community projects our Safe Public Spaces teams are doing in this fall in 6 countries and DONATE to support the 2015 programs (and apply to be one of those programs in 2015).

* You can plan to participate in the 5th annual International Anti-Street Harassment Week.

* You can request me to lead a workshop or give a talk in your community, to your business, or in your school or community (in 4 years I’ve given 130+ talks).

* You can donate to support our work, which currently is largely done on a volunteer-basis and anything we do fund comes solely from individual donors.

 

Share on Facebook

Post to Twitter

Share

A viral video cannot be the only way to understand street harassment

street harassment | on October, 30, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Whenever I left my college campus in California, inevitably at least once man would honk, whistle or call out to me from his car. Usually it was several. It annoyed me, it made me dread going places, and I felt there was little I could do about it as these men whizzed by, safely removed from me in their cars.

I will never forget the day a man harassed me while I was on the phone with my dad and my dad heard it. He asked me in surprise if that man was talking to me. I said something like, “Yes, dad, it happens all the time when I’m walking along this street.”

He was shocked. In that moment I realized he had no idea how many times men harassed me.

At that time, I didn’t know the term “street harassment” but a few years later in 2006, I found the term on the Street Harassment Project website and wrote my master’s thesis on it. During the course of my research, I began not only educating myself about the issue, but also the men in my life, like my dad and my male partner.

They, like many straight men, were clueless about how often the women they knew faced unwanted comments, following and even touching in public spaces. So I made it a point to mention when and where I was harassed to help them understand. They believed me, they cared, and now they are outspoken against it.

In the nearly 8 years that I’ve been studying, writing and speaking out about this topic, I’ve encountered countless people who similarly have no idea how common street harassment is or how bad it can be and also those who willfully believe it doesn’t happen and that we are exaggerating or lying.

Over the past four months, there have been four different viral videos of street harassers filmed with hidden cameras on the streets of Washington, DCMinneapolisCairo, Egypt, and this week, New York City. Two years ago, there was a similar video made in Brussels, Belgium. They show just how common street harassment is and provide visual examples of what it looks like. These videos are easy to digest and they are raising many people’s awareness about the problem. They prove street harassment is not made up.

But these hidden camera videos only go so far and they cannot and should not be the only way to understand the problem and raise awareness about it. This is why.

First, the women who are the subjects of these films comprise just one demographic: they are all young adult, able-bodied, seemingly heterosexual, attractive women walking alone in big cities, and the three women in the USA and in Belgium are all white. Collectively, they make the experiences of everyone else invisible. To help see the bigger picture of who experiences harassment, you can turn to Twitterblogsart projects, and to a nationally representative survey conducted earlier this year by GfK.

In the survey, 25% of men – largely in the LGBQT community – said they had been street harassed, as had 65% of women. Half of all harassed persons said it began before they were age 17, so lots of teenagers are harassed. Persons of color were more likely than white people to say they had been harassed. People from every region of the country and every income level reported experiencing harassment. While the survey did not ask specifically about disability or include enough transgender individuals to speak about their experiences statistically, there is no doubt from people’s stories that that they face a lot of street harassment, too.

Second, the videos do not show the full extent of harassment people experience, like being grabbed or flashed or assaulted. In the national survey, nearly one in four women had been sexually touched or groped, one in five had been followed, and nearly one in ten had been forced to do something sexual. Recently, a woman in Detroit was murdered by a harasser, while a woman in New York City was slashed by another. These scary, violent experiences is what makes a lot of the “just verbal” experiences upsetting. And of course that underlying discomfort and fear is hard to depict in a short video.

Third, by limiting the video taping to the streets, you don’t see the full range of harassers. Like men – and most harassers of women and men are male — who harass from their vehicles. Men who harass on public transportation. Men who harass in stores, restaurants, clubs, bars, parks, movie theaters, and beaches. Men who stand outside their college fraternity house or sports field and harass women walking by. I believe there would be more racial diversity, age diversity and income-bracket diversity among the harassers than the viral videos depict if it was possible to capture harassment in all of these places.

Since it is impossible to video tape every type of harasser and harassee to document – to prove – this is a problem, we need to listen to and believe everyone who speaks out to share their stories. Believe the gay man who says he is called a fag or queer; believe the transgender person who says they are called tranny and he/she; believe persons of color when they say they are called racial slurs, misidentified as a criminal or as a sex worker; believe persons with disabilities when they say they are laughed at, pointed at, and harassed; believe the teenagers who say they are harassed while commuting to and from school.

Then go a step further beyond belief, try to empathize with their experiences — even though they are not like your own — and commit to helping create a world that is safer and more welcoming for them.

Share on Facebook

Post to Twitter

Share

“Excuse me, Mr. Stranger? I’m fifteen!”

Stories, street harassment | on October, 30, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

I am half black, half white and people, no – men – in South Africa often give me strange looks. I live in Czech Republic, where people do that just because I have a dark skin, but they don’t approach me out of nowhere and chat.

My aunt took my older sister and me to the hairdresser’s. I was sitting in a chair while the hairdresser was straightening my hair. Three men were sitting next to me, staring at me occasionally. I got used to it a little bit over time, people do that there. But when we were leaving the place, me stepping out last, one of the men grabbed my arm, making me turn around. He let my arm go, smiled at me, waved and said ‘hi’. I froze, then almost-waved back with a stoic expression, my eyes widened in panic, mumbled ‘hi’ and ran away to the safety of my family. We laughed about it, when I told them. But wow, was I scared. It wasn’t because of my clothes, it was cold outside, but I look older than I am. Some people even mistake me for my mom’s (married) friend. But excuse me, Mr. Stranger? I’m fifteen!

- C

Location: South Africa

Share your street harassment story for the blog.
See the book 50 Stories about Stopping Street Harassers for more idea

Share on Facebook

Post to Twitter

Share

Why We Shouldn’t Lose Sight of Full Equality

LGBTQ, male perspective, street harassment | on October, 30, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Cross-posted with permission from the author Patrick McNeil, our board member, from the Huffington Post

Late last week, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel found that the Department of the Army had discriminated against Tamara Lusardi based on her gender identity in a significant ruling that said Lusardi’s restricted daily movement “constituted discriminatory harassment under the guiding principles of Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act].”

At the same time, marriage equality is becoming the new normal, and the United States has suddenly become a nation where nearly two-thirds of same-sex couples live in a state where they can get married. Just this past Saturday morning, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that same-sex couples in six more states would receive federal benefits and have their marriages recognized by the federal government.

This is all very good news, but GLSEN’s annual school climate survey, also released last week, is a good reminder that – while LGBT Americans live in an increasingly evolving society – there’s still a long way to go.

At school, according to the survey, LGBT students really don’t feel safe. More than half (55.5%) of LGBT students feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation – and more than a third because of their gender expression. In the past month, almost a third missed at least one day of school because they felt uncomfortable, while more than a third avoided certain gender-segregated spaces (like bathrooms and locker rooms) for the same reason. More than two-thirds frequently or often heard homophobic remarks, and more than half heard negative comments about gender expression – like not being “masculine enough” or “feminine enough.”

LGBT students are particularly susceptible to verbal and physical harassment at school, and about half (49%) said they’ve experienced electronic harassment in the past year – such as via texting or on social media. What this all leads to is higher levels of depression and lower levels of self-esteem.

These findings, which are actually much improved from just a few years ago, are still very terrifying, given that schools are meant to be safe spaces where children spend a significant portion of their day. The findings are also very parallel with what we know about how LGBT people navigate and experience public spaces.

According to Stop Street Harassment’s (SSH) national study released earlier this year, LGBT people were more likely than straight people to report experiencing street harassment (both verbal and physical) – and it starts young. Seventy percent of LGBT people said they experienced it by age 17, compared to 49 percent of straight people (which is still very significant). In the same way that students in GLSEN’s survey reported avoiding certain activities because they felt unsafe, SSH’s study found that LGBT people were more likely to give up an outdoor activity for the same reason.

In my own research on the street harassment of gay and bisexual men – an admittedly much narrower group – survey respondents also reported high levels of avoiding specific areas or neighborhoods and crossing the street or taking an alternative route in order to sidestep unwanted interactions in what they felt were unsafe environments. In addition, 71.3 percent said they constantly assessed their surroundings when navigating public spaces.

That’s not healthy.

Whether at school or in public spaces, many LGBT youth don’t feel safe and continue to face disgraceful levels of discrimination (and some don’t feel safe at home, either). But when they enter the workforce, disadvantages persist.

In the absence of federal legislation like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), it’s still legal in a majority of states to discriminate against employees simply on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity (even in some states where same-sex marriage is now legal). On the job, report after report notes the existence of persistent harassment and discrimination for LGBT people. And this is layered on top of pervasive race and gender discrimination.

This year, 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed, it’s certainly satisfying to know that the Act continues to guide favorable, groundbreaking rulings, like in the case of Tamara Lusardi. But we shouldn’t allow extraordinary advances to overshadow the amount of progress we still need to make toward full equality at school, in public spaces, in the workplace – and everywhere in between. Indeed, we’ve only just begun.

Share on Facebook

Post to Twitter

Share

“How much do you charge?”

Stories, street harassment | on October, 30, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

I had an idiot pull up in his car and ask me if I wanted to “go on a date”.  I ignored him so he screamed at the top of his lungs “How much do you charge?” – I got hit on a lot on the streets because I was beautiful; however, my looks disappeared when I hit my 40′s; but it’s nice to be invisible…older women are just not seen….

Optional: What’s one way you think we can make public places safer for everyone?

Men still haven’t got it.  We need to start raising boys differently.  Pure and simple it has to start in childhood.

- Diva

Location: San Francisco’s Delores Street, CA

Share your street harassment story for the blog.
See the book 50 Stories about Stopping Street Harassers for more idea

 

Share on Facebook

Post to Twitter

Share

“Your legs made me miss my stop”

Stories, street harassment | on October, 29, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Today on the way to work, a guy came up behind me on the subway and whispered, “Your legs made me miss my stop. I ain’t even mad.”

I want to bathe in acid.

- Bonnie

Location: NYC Subway

Share your street harassment story for the blog.
See the book 50 Stories about Stopping Street Harassers for more idea

Share on Facebook

Post to Twitter

Share

Bolivia: El extremismo de una idea primitiva

correspondents, street harassment | on October, 29, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Andrea Flores Hernández, Santa Cruz, Bolivia, SSH Blog Correspondent

Image via Illustration Friday

59 mujeres. 59 mujeres de distintas regiones del país, de distintas edades, con distintas ambiciones. Todas ellas fueron víctimas de feminicidio en el primer semestre de este año. El feminicidio, se refiere al asesinato de mujeres por razones de género, y este tipo de asesinato ha cobrado más vidas femeninas que aquellos por inseguridad ciudadana.

Si bien el 9 de marzo de 2013, el Presidente de Bolivia, Evo Morales, promulgó la ley n° 348 “Ley Integral para garantizar a las mujeres una vida libre de violencia”, aún falta mucho por hacer. La burocracia frena a la justicia y esto ocasiona que muy pocos casos terminen con una sentencia. “Mientras no se implemente la Ley 348 y la mujer no tenga que peregrinar institución por institución para ser atendida cuando va a denunciar  violencia de género; y  la policía, fiscales y jueces dejen los prejuicios machistas, va a ser muy difícil que los casos de violencia contra la mujer lleguen a sentencia. Hay que cambiar la mentalidad colonizada y patriarcal de nuestra sociedad.” sentencia Carmen Sandoval, abogada con amplio conocimiento sobre la violencia contra la mujer boliviana.

Es bueno que existan leyes que protejan a la mujer. Pero, ¿no sería excelente si esa ley no tuviera motivo para existir? Quizá suene utópico, irreal, o algo imposible; pero el imaginar una mejor sociedad ¿no es acaso el origen de comenzar acciones que la hagan posible?

En Bolivia, las autoridades denuncian y condenan la violencia contra la mujer, pero pocos alzan la voz en contra del diario acoso callejero, que también es violencia. ¿Por qué? ¿Acaso hemos tomado el acoso como algo “normal” en nuestra sociedad?

El feminicidio es la manera más extremista del hombre para demostrar que la mujer es un objeto, y la manera cotidiana de demostrar esta idea es el acoso en las calles. ¿Por qué debemos esperar a que una mujer sea víctima mortal para recién comenzar a hacer algo?

La idea de que la mujer es un objeto es el verdadero virus de la sociedad. Un hombre que piense que esa idea es verdadera jamás podrá respetar plenamente a una mujer. Un hombre que vea a la mujer como objeto nunca comprenderá que la mujer es un ser independiente de él.

No dejemos que las víctimas de feminicidio que hay en tu país o en el mío, se conviertan solamente en cifras. No dejemos que se conviertan en simples números que alimentan los miles de reportes acerca del tema. No olvidemos que luego de la cifra se encuentra la palabra “mujeres”. No olvidemos que esa palabra contiene fuerza, voluntad, sueños y deseos. Para esas 59 mujeres víctimas de feminicidio todo eso se extinguió. Pero nosotras seguimos aquí. Y mientras sigamos aquí, actuemos. Hagamos algo por evitar que otras mujeres se conviertan en víctimas. Hagamos algo para que tú y yo no seamos víctimas. Tratando de eliminar esta idea despreciable de ver a la mujer como mero objeto, extinguiremos de a poco la violencia más cotidiana, como es el acoso callejero, hasta la más extremista, como es el feminicidio.

 

Bolivia: The extremism of a primitive idea.

59 women. 59 women from different regions of the country, of different ages, with different ambitions. All these women were victims of femicide in the first half of the year. Femicide refers to the murder of women because of their gender, and this type of murder has claimed more lives than those of insecurity.

Even though the 9 of March 2013 the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, promulgated the Law No. 348 “Integral Law to guarantee women a life free of violence,” much remains to be done. The bureaucracy slows justice and this causes very few cases end with a conviction. “While Law 348 is not implemented and the woman does not have to “pilgrimage” institution by institution, to denounce violence; and the police, prosecutors and judges do not leave male prejudices, will be very difficult for this type of violence come to judgment. We must change the colonized and patriarchal mentality of our society.” Says Carmen Sandoval, a lawyer with extensive knowledge on violence against Bolivian women.

It is good that there are laws to protect women. But would it not be great if that law had not reason to exist? It may sound utopian, unrealistic, or impossible; but imagine a better society is not perhaps the origin of starting actions that make it possible?

In Bolivia, authorities denounce and condemn violence against women, but few of them speak out against daily street harassment, which is also violence. Why? Have we taken the harassment as “normal” in our society?

Femicide is the most extreme way of a man to show that the woman is an object, and the daily way to prove this is the harassment on the streets. Why should we wait for a woman to be fatality to start doing something?

The idea that the woman is an object is the real virus of the society. A man who thinks that this idea is true will never fully respect a woman. A man who sees women as objects will never understand that woman is a human being independent of him.

Do not let the victims of femicide in your country or mine, become only numbers. Do not let them become simple numbers that feed the thousands of reports on the subject. Do not forget that after that number is the word “women.” Do not forget that words have power, will, dreams and desires. For these 59 women victims of femicide are dead. But we’re still here. And while we’re still here, we have to act. Let’s do something to prevent other women from becoming victims. Let’s do something in order that you and I cannot be victims. Trying to delete this despicable idea of seeing women as mere objects, we will slowly extinguish the daily violence, such as street harassment, to the more extreme, as is the femicide.

Andrea is in her second year of university, studying Social Communication. You can follow her on Twitter: @AndreaFlores116

Share on Facebook

Post to Twitter

Share

Share Your Story

Share your street harassment story for the blog. Donate Now

Buy the Book

Comment Policy

SSH will not publish any comment that is offensive or hateful and does not add to a thoughtful discussion of street harassment. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, disabalism, classism, and sexism will not be tolerated. Disclaimer: SSH may use any stories submitted to the blog in future scholarly publications on street harassment.