Men whistling at a girl walking by or commenting on a women’s physique, bullying behavior toward LGBQT people or racial and ethnic minorities, as well as unwarranted crude gestures are all examples of “street harassment.” Street harassment is a bigger problem for women and LGBQT everywhere than most people think, and has become a human rights issue worldwide. In some countries, the harassment limits women’s ability to be in public. In the U.S., 65 percent of women and 25 percent of men report having been harassed.
Street harassment involves leers, sounds, comments or gestures made by strangers in public place that are motivated by sexual orientation or gender expression. The strangers’ actions are seen to be disrespectful, insulting and threatening by the recipients. Officials often do not take harassment of this type seriously and interpret the comments or actions as either a joke, a misunderstanding or warranted.
In some cultures, people blame the women for encouraging the behavior because of their attire or “willingness” to be in the public place, whether it is as innocent as walking down a busy street or getting on public transportation. There is no country in which women feel they can freely move in public places without experiencing harassment. It has actually become a women’s human rights issue in areas. In addition, in Europe, a 2013 survey of LGBQT individuals found that 50 percent avoid many public places for fear of being harassed.
Stop Street Harassment (SSH) is a nonprofit that was established to document and fight against gender-based hassling globally. SSH started as a blog and spread to a organization with efforts worldwide.
Efforts on several fronts are under way through SSH. The group is working to get companies that advertise in ways that portray street harassment as an “okay” thing to drop ads or change the language used. They established a pilot program in 2013 to work on creating safe public spaces in Afghanistan, Cameroon and within the U.S. in the Chicago area. The program is being expanded currently into five other countries and more of the U.S.
The SSH organization has also been documenting street harassment worldwide. SSH has conducted surveys. They have correspondents from around the globe that report on harassment issues in their region. They also have conducted focus groups and workshops to address the prevalent situation. Founder Holly Kearl, author of Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women, reports that over the past three years, SSH has received stories from women in 30 countries about their experiences with sexually explicit gestures, comments and groping in public places.
In the Christian Science Monitor three years ago, Kearl emphasized the need to teach females (and undoubtedly LGBQT people) assertive responses, self-defense and how to deal with harassers in a way that does not encourage them and helps eradicate the problem. She called for everyone to challenge all gender-based violence and harassment. “The problem may be massive,” she acknowledged. “But, each of us has the power to chip away at it right now.” Street harassment may be a worldwide problem for women and LGBQT, but it is a problem that needs to be addressed.
By Dyanne Weiss