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RCASA’s Saturday Prevention: Street Harassment

In Prevention, Sexual Assault Awareness on November 27, 2010 at 7:00 am

We all know the stereotypes, a woman walks past a construction site and is the target of catcalls. This is called street harassment. Recently this form of harassment has gained attention in the media as women all across the country are standing up and confronting their attackers. This harassment is not new, and exceptionally common, the first study dedicated to street harassment found that 100% of women surveyed reported being harassed—yes, one-hundred-percent, ALL of them (Gardner, 1995). With the addition of cameras on cell phones, women are getting pictures and videos of their harassers and posting them online. Hollaback, a website dedicated to taking back the streets, posts these stories, pictures, and videos in an effort to not only get the names and faces of their attackers out but also to raise awareness of this issue, and the vile and often violent nature of these attacks.

Some assert that women should just ignore these attacks, turn the other cheek, or worse—be flattered. What silence and acceptance of these attacks does is create and maintain a culture in which gender-based violence is acceptable. It minimizes the experiences of these women. More sinister is that these instances of harassment can be forms of rape-testing, that is seeing how far one can go as a means of judging their fitness as a potential rape victim.

RCASA cannot advocate anyone challenging harassers, the risk of violence is just too great. But what we can advocate is standing up for oneself, and standing up for others when you see this kind of behavior. If a harasser is confronted by not just their victim, but everyone else around them, they’ll be out numbered and adequately shamed for their abhorrent behavior.

This harassment is not limited to just women, LGBTQ individuals(whether they are or are just perceived as such) also deal with this harassment on a daily basis. It too is abhorrent and worthy of ‘hollerin back.’

Carol Brooks Gardner, Passing By: Gender and Public Harassment (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995), 89-90

  1. Street harassment is a problem because it is disrespectful, inappropriate, and threatening behavior to adolescent girls and women in public places. This behavior has the greatest negative effect on the well-being of adolescent girls who become conditioned to become silent, submissive, and fearful as opposed to becoming assertive, self-reliant, and confident.

    Defeating street harassment requires a 3 Petal Plan that involves a combination of actions represented by the petals of Society, Targets of Harassment, and Bystanders. While each petal has a different role, they must all work together in order to create a lasting effect.

    1. Society must create a culture of intolerance for street harassment in order to eliminate the behavior.

    2. Targets of Harassment must learn strategies and methods to directly voice their disapproval when harassed.

    3. Bystanders – must learn strategies and methods to intervene and mitigate when observing incidents of harassment.

    Every situation of street harassment is different. Each situation requires a different response. But the overall strategy is the same: Society, Targets, and Bystanders need to communicate that street harassment is unacceptable behavior and will not be tolerated.

  2. […] Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault Blog, “RCASA’s Saturday Prevention: Street Harassment“ […]

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