Street harassment is a form of sexual harassment that consists of unwanted comments, wolf-whistles, "catcalling", and other actions by strangers in public areas. According to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, "violence and harassment against women and girls in public spaces remains a largely neglected issue, with few laws or policies in place to address it."
According to the non-profit organization Stop Street Harassment, street harassment is "unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent and is directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation." In much of South Asia, the term is called "eve teasing". The non-profit organization also provides examples for street harassment, some of which include "unwanted whistling, leering, sexist, homophobic or transphobic slurs, persistent requests for someone’s name, number or destination after they’ve said no, sexual names, comments and demands, following, flashing, public masturbation, groping, sexual assault, and rape". According to the author of “A Radical Reshaping of the Law: Interpreting and Remedying Street Harassment”, Tiffanie Heben, there are three levels of street harassment. The levels are severe, moderately severe, and least severe. The level "severe" includes an unfamiliar man making "sexually explicit reference to a woman’s body or to sexual activities", or calling out profanities based on racial, ethnic, gender, or sexuality. The level "moderately severe" includes an unfamiliar man making "sexual innuendos", and the level "least severe" includes making gestures towards women in a manner that is "not political in nature".
Street harassment can also be known as catcalling. Catcalling is defined a whistle, shout, or a sexual move as a person walks by another person. Catcalling can happen almost anywhere. It can happen at school, on a bus, or even on social media.
A number of studies from around the world have attempted to assess the prevalence of street harassment.
A 2014 study of 2,000 Americans was commissioned by an activist group and conducted by GfK. 65% of women and 25% of men reported having been the victims of street harassment in their lives. 41% of women and 16% of men said they had been physically harassed in some way, such as by being followed, flashed, or groped.
The Canadian government sponsored a large data research project in 1993 called the Violence Against Women Survey. In the data sample of over 12,000 women, 85% said they were victims of harassment by a stranger.
Today, there are still many people who don't know what catcalling is, until it happens to them. Being cat called of the first time can make a person feel bad or upset. When women are street harassed, they are unsure if they should accept or ignore it. One in four women experience street harassment by the age of 12.
Members of the LGBT community may be particularly susceptible. 66% of LGBT respondents in a 2012 European Union survey said that they avoid holding hands in public for fear of harassment and assault. 50% said they avoid certain places or locations, and the places they listed as most unsafe to be open about their sexual orientations were "public transport" and "street, square, car parking lot, or other public space." The 2014 GfK survey of Americans also reported higher incidence of harassment for LGBT people. According to the Stop Street Harassment national survey, LGBT men are 17 percent more likely to experience physical aggressive harassment and 20 percent more likely to encounter verbal harassment than cisgender men.
Street harassment, like other forms of sexual harassment, can induce a variety of negative mental health effects on victims.
A 2000 article, based on Canada's Violence Against Women Survey, showed that past exposure to harassment from strangers is an important factor in women's perceptions of their safety in public. Harassment from a stranger, as opposed to an acquaintance, is more likely to induce fear of sexual victimization.
A study published in 2010 reported that "the experience of street harassment is directly related to a greater preoccupation with physical appearance and body shame, and is indirectly related to heightened fears of rape... Stranger harassment reduces feelings of safety while walking alone at night, using public transportation, walking alone in a parking garage, and while home alone at night."
YouGov conducted a poll of about 1,000 Americans in August 2014. In their findings, 72% said it was never appropriate to make a "catcall." In addition to this, 18% said it was sometimes appropriate to catcall and 2% said it was always acceptable. The majority (55%) labelled catcalling "harassment", while 20% called it "complimentary". Americans in the 18–29 age range were the most likely to categorize catcalling as complimentary.
Public activism against street harassment has grown since the late 2000s. A group called Stop Street Harassment began as a blog in 2008 and became incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2012. The organization provides tips for dealing with street harassment in safe and assertive ways, as well as provide opportunities to "take community action". In 2010, Stop Street Harassment started the annual "International Anti-Street Harassment Week". During the third week in April, people from around the globe participated in "marches, rallies, workshops, and sidewalk chalkings" in an effort to gain attention for the issue. Another group called Hollaback! was founded in 2010.
One American street artist used Kickstarter to raise money for a campaign called "Stop Telling Women to Smile." The artist posts portraits of herself and other young women accompanied with messages against street harassment.
A Minneapolis woman created a set of printable "Cards Against Harassment" (in homage to the game Cards Against Humanity) that she distributes to street harassers. The cards are meant to explain to street harassers why their comments are unwanted.
In some jurisdiction there are laws that criminalize some forms of street harassment. Peru has an anti-street harassment law since March 2015.
- War Zone – a documentary on the topic
- 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman, an experiment where a woman walks through the streets of New York City with a hidden camera recording her from the front, and experiences 108 instances of what the video creators call street harassment over the course of 10 hours.
- Bachelet, Michelle (21 February 2013). "Making cities safe for women and girls". The Guardian. Inter Press Service. Retrieved 31 October 2014.
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- "About". Stop Street Harassment. Retrieved 31 October 2014.
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- "International Anti-Street Harassment Week". Stop Street Harassment.
- Leeds, Sarene (3 October 2014). "Jessica Williams Continues Her War Against Catcalls on 'The Daily Show'". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 31 October 2014.
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- Lee, Felicia R. (9 April 2014). "An Artist Demands Civility on the Street With Grit and Buckets of Paste". New York Times. Retrieved 4 November 2014.
- Silva, Estey (24 July 2014). "Cards Against Harassment address street harassers directly". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 4 November 2014.