Society Magazine

The Case for Criminalizing Street Harassment

Posted on the 22 July 2015 by Juliez
The Case for Criminalizing Street Harassment

Stop street harassment.

This is my thought process before leaving the house: I want to look nice and appreciate fashion, but also know that if I’m going to be on public transport or walking down the street, I must actively check my outfit to be sure it won’t subject me to catcalling.

As a politically-minded, strong person, I would ideally like to make my own choices about everything in my life, including what I wear. I would love to be able to rise above threatening perpetrators of harassment. But in reality, I do regulate my outfit to conform to society’s pressure and avoid the consequences of other’s behavior. I moderate my choices because I’m scared that I will not only get verbally harassed, but that this harassment could lead to psychical violence.

This is wrong.

I always think carefully about my route. On my way to school, I make sure that I don’t walk past ‘that’ barber shop, because ‘that’ man always pokes his head out of the door and stares as I walk by. On my way to netball, I put my earphones in and my head down, trying to avoid the bleary eyed, beery men sitting outside ‘that’ pub.

This is wrong.

Street harassment is a way for men to exhibit and re-assert their power over others. It shows that they have the right to analyze, judge and comment on a woman’s body. It makes women feel self-conscious, uncomfortable and even afraid to do basic activities like walk down the street. Because street harassment — and the fear it inspires — is rooted in this embedded, systemic sexism, therefore, it seems there is no quick-fix solution.

But it also seems there could be an opportunity for an interesting social experiment. Since street harassment makes women particularly think twice about going out late at night, it could be interesting to issue the misogynistic and abusive men who exhibit this denigrating behavior with a curfew. Not only would this mirror the impact of their behavior, but it would also demonstrate the uneven power dynamic between men and women. Most importantly, though, it would give women the freedom they deserve.

The statistics on street harassment are nothing short of scandalous. A recent poll showed that over 87% of women were a target of sexist comments, nearly 57% of women have been touched or grabbed in a sexual way and, perhaps most shocking of all, only 3 in 811 women said they had never experienced some sort of street harassment.

This oppression has led to a range of feminist responses, including Take Back the Night marches, exposing the problem on social media and ‘slut walks.’ These are commendable efforts, but I think it’s time for governments around the world to step up and act. I want to see legislation making street harassment a crime, punishable in the same way as spitting or littering is punished. Raising awareness is valuable, but it’s not enough.

I’m 15 years old, and I routinely hear men tell me to “smile baby,” “give us your number,” or “I would.” Men shouldn’t be allowed to act like this. If they won’t stop then men and women who reject misogyny need to make them.

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