At one time or another almost every woman, especially those in bigger cities, have been faced with unwanted comments or advances from men on the street that often times bring with it a sense of fear, anger, and general discomfort. In recent years many of us have become well-versed on the steps to take when sexual harassment occurs in a workplace setting, but when it comes to street harassment many women are unsure. One reason for this is that the incident is over so quickly it seems easier to brush it off even though the feeling of being violated may last a lot longer.
CNN recently shed some light on street harassment and what women can do when put in this uncomfortable situation. In most states an incident known as “cat-calling” (when someone makes sexual comments as you pass by) is not against the law, but if there is any touching involved women are able to file a police report.
Brittney Gilbert, who spoke with CNN about an incident on a bus with a man groping her as she passed, decided her incident of street sexual harassment should be reported. Though Gilbert was right to report the incident of sexual assault, she was met with some resistance from law enforcement. Gilbert explains, “All I wanted to do was report the crime. ... My experience from there was disappointing and surprising. I didn't expect anyone to give me a hug but I was just surprised at how difficult it was to file a report. [The policeman] didn't say to me 'You can't file a report,' he just kept questioning if that's what I wanted to do.”
And though “cat-calling” is usually not considered illegal, there is something women can do when faced with unwanted comments from men on the street. One international organization trying to end street harassment, Hollaback!, has helped many women connect through crowdsourcing after experiencing these incidents on the street. Women are able to post stories and shares photos on the Hollaback! site in an effort to publicize their street harassment and hopefully discourage future incidents. Though the perpetrators faces are blurred, Hollaback! will use the information to lobby for more street lights, emergency phones, or police presence. The creator of the organization, Emily May, explains what made her take action against street harassment. May explains, “This is a human rights issue. This infringes our right to walk down the street safely, and we pay taxes too, we deserve to walk down the street and feel safe.”
Have you ever been a victim of street harassment? How did you handle the situation?
Would you ever consider reporting street harassment on a site like Hollaback!?