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Hollaback!’s Deputy Director, Debjani Roy, wrote an amazing op-ed in the Huffington Post last week discussing criminalization and street harassment. Check it out below!
“When it comes to combating street harassment, increasing criminalization is not the answer.
I have been working as an advocate to end gender-based violence for 10 years with a focus on domestic violence, widows’ rights, forced marriage, sexual trafficking, forced prostitution, and other issues affecting women and girls globally. I currently work to end street harassment or sexual harassment in public spaces.
Street harassment is a widespread and global problem, defined as unwelcome and unwanted attention of a sexual nature, objectifying and targeting both women and men. The wide spectrum of actions ranges from leering, catcalling and whistling to public exposure and masturbation to groping, touching and grabbing. While some forms of street harassment, such as the overt physical acts, do fall under statutory penal codes, others including the ‘hey baby’s,’ the ‘can I get a smile?’, or even the reactive, ‘you’re so ugly, I wouldn’t touch you with a stick,’ do not. These commonplace comments and actions, some of which are claimed to be compliments, are belittling, offensive, intimidating and discriminatory. The 4,500-plus experiences of street harassment shared on the blogging platform of Hollaback!, the anti-street harassment organization, confirm that.
It is a commonly held myth that street harassment happens in low income communities and communities of color. Mapping incidents of street harassment shows it is prevalent in high density areas, such as Times Square in New York City or the West End in London. It makes sense — the more people present in a locale, the more likely harassment will occur, especially in a world that accepts it as a normal and everyday part of life.
When speaking about street harassment at trainings, panels and other outreach efforts, one question repeatedly asked by participants is, ‘How do you criminalize catcalling?’ Criminalizing verbal harassment and unwanted gestures is neither the final goal nor the ultimate solution to this problem and can, in fact, inadvertently work against the growth of an inclusive anti-harassment movement. The criminal justice system disproportionately targets and affects low-income communities and communities of color, as evidenced by more recent policies such as New York City’s Stop and Frisk program and other degrading forms of racial profiling. Our objective is to address and shift cultural and social dialogues and attitudes of patriarchy that purport street harassment as simply the price you pay for being a woman or being LBGTQ. It is not to re-victimize men already discriminated against by the system.
Further criminalizing street harassment can have a negative impact on families and communities within already marginalized and targeted groups. As a South Asian American immigrant woman who has been harassed by men of all backgrounds, including South Asian men, the thought of reporting men who already face institutional and systematic discrimination carries with it a personal sense of responsibility. Having been an advocate for survivors of domestic violence within the South Asian community, I understand the repercussions that families within my community face in the hands of the legal system. A family may depend on a harasser due to certain institutional and cultural barriers, including immigration status (dependent visas, lack of documentation, etc.), linguistic barriers or economic dependency. Say, for example, the harasser has a spouse who is on a dependent visa that does not allow her to work in the United States. Criminalization of the harasser, will directly affect the family that relies on him for their livelihood, potentially resulting in dependent family members losing legal status in the United States, being separated in the case of removal proceedings or economic hardships due to lost income. As advocates, our job is to consider the immediate and long-term impacts of criminalization, knowing that we are working with a flawed and discriminatory system.
This does not excuse the behavior and actions of harassers, but rather promotes the opportunity for more effective ways to let them know that street harassment is unacceptable and furthermore, prevent it from occurring in the first place.
A better approach would require devoting time, energy and effort toward creating social and cultural change. An example of these methods include going out to schools to talk to girls and boys about appropriate ways of treating one another; going out in our communities to engage members on how harassment affects their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons; training individuals on bystander intervention, showing that we all have a role to play in having each other’s backs; creating communities of people who stand up against behavior that is demeaning, discriminating, sexist and homophobic; working through community-based organizations to discuss how masculinity is shaped and actively redefining what it means to be a man across cultures.
Change will not happen overnight, but we intend to continue with this work of changing minds amongst individuals, communities and institutions about the acceptability of street harassment, while simultaneously empowering and strengthening the community of those of us who are targeted. Together we must focus our energies into laying the groundwork so that street harassment is no longer a part of any of our lives.”
– Debjani Roy
So I was walking downtown Toronto today back from a workshop and was cat-called. But it felt like more than that. Picture this, I’m walking down the street and some guy stops his bike just in front of where I’m walking but on the road (I’m on the sidewalk) and not only catcalls me but also proceeds to whisper in a really creepy serial killer in the movies kind of way. Ugh!
I was on an expense paid trip with a school group, and as we walked back to our hotel a man approached my roommate. He started to come on to her and put his arm around her waist. When a chaperone and I yelled at him, he did not stop. He was with a group of friends that did nothing but watched as he harassed my friend. He followed us nearly all the way to the hotel until another chaperone confronted him. I was outraged by the blatant disrespect and entitlement that the guy showed.
Help young people around the world lead the way for the next generation to live without fear of harassment in public spaces.
Why we care: Street harassment–ranging from comments like “You’d look good on me” to groping, flashing and assault–is a daily, global reality for many girls and women and fuels a cultural environment that condones gender-based violence.
How we’re solving this: Uniting a network of leaders from 25 countries in New York City to establish a global strategy to end street harassment.
Hollaback! will host HOLLA::Revolution, an international conference to establish a global strategy to disrupt the normalization of street harassment, in New York City this July. The conference will bring together 250 leaders, who have been trained by Hollaback! to fight street harassment in their local communities.
Hollaback! has trained young leaders—who come from 62 cities and 25 countries—to build skills in on-the-ground activism and digital storytelling to create powerful change. Collectively, they have performed more than 25 research projects, met with 150 legislators, collected 4,000 stories, trained more than 2,500 people, held 50 rallies and walks, spoken with more than 750 media outlets, and brought the issue of street harassment into the limelight in their communities and on-line. But the power of the Internet only extends so far.
HOLLA::Revolution will have two parts:
We aim to create the next generation of feminist leaders, to develop a global agenda to end street harassment and to build the community support necessary for the movement’s long-term success. From California to Mumbai and London to South Africa, help us put an end, once and for all, to street harassment.
A man in a business suit stared at my breasts for the whole time I was on the bus home. Asshole.
A few weeks ago, a car full of men followed my car for 15 minutes in stop and go traffic. I didn’t think to snap a pic, so last night when the same thing happened, I got this. This car had 3 men in it with a woman driving. They stared at me while at a red light, then started screaming at me and holding up pictures of women in lingerie or less.
I was at diavolos the other night and this guy came up and talked to a friend and I at the table we were at. He was super cool until my friends walked to the bar to get a drink. Then he started leaning in, asking me if I hook up. I said no. He tried to block me from leaving the area. I eventually pushed him out of the way and found my friends. What an asshole.
I was walking down the street the other day and some guy whistles at me and tells me “oh, what I’d like to do to that ass”.
I told him to fuck off and he proceeded to call me a bitch. Why the fuck do people think its okay to call people a bitch when they don’t respond the way they are expected to. Why the fuck do people think its okay to comment on people’s bodies and say what kind of sexual activity they’d like to do. No consent is sexual assault, figure it out.
I was in rush
I was late for school
I was wearing my beautiful new red heels
I was in a hurry ,but I felt good
I needed to catch that bus
I crossed the street
slowed down by the high school
there were one or two guys hanging out in the yard
but my neighborhood is safe in the morning
half a block past, I saw someone behind me
walking quickly to catch up
a young man in leather jacket,
he moved in behind me
I looked ahead walking faster
the corners of my eyes were wide open
I was walking faster
but he was catching up
easily and effortlessly
he slid right up to me,
breathing down my neck
i felt trapped, helpless
I wasn’t going to lose control
I had heels on , I wasn’t going to run
there was no one on the street
even in the distance
the morning birds were singing
my neighborhood was supposed to be safe in the morning
I kept walking fast
I kept scanning for a person, a policeman, anybody
where were the people heading for work?
I am strong
I grew up in the country, climbing trees
I grew up romping with three brothers
I taught my brother how to throw a baseball
finally two blocks down
there is a policeman
he is getting into his vehicle
he is shutting the door
I run as fast as I can
why don’t I scream?
my voice has evaporated
I am too far away
the police car pulls out
I am getting angry and desperate
I decide to turn around
I will punch him
I turn around into his flat hard face
I grabbed his collar
but something in me was paralyzed
I am a gentle person
I am just hanging on
he yells “you fuckin’ white bitch!”
and punches me right in the face
then walks away casually, triumphant
not hurrying at all
my head was spiked with razor blade stars
I reeled, I numbly continued walking to the bus stop,
only a half a block away
I was ashamed
I couldn’t defend myself
why was no one there ?
why did not one see?
what happened to my neighborhood safe in the morning?
the pressure inside suspended my tears
I had to keep going
I was late for class.