Street harassment – Stoppable?

Street harassment can happen anywhere, rural and city areas alike.

Georgia State is an open and urban
campus that is immersed in the outside world with non-students or
faculty living their lives. Students spend the majority of their days
traveling down city streets, where
street harassment has now become a prominent issue.

Yet, women and members of the LGBTQIQA community are the only reported victims of gender-based intimidation and provocation.

In survey from Indiana University, 293 women from every race, age,
class and sexual orientation cited examples of harassment by unknown
men in public.

“The people who have the most ease moving through public space are individuals who hold power in society—men, people who are not-transgender and heterosexual whites and people who are perceived to be class-advantaged,” Georgia State sociology professor Dr. Maura Ryan said.

The term “street harassment” leaves a lot to be interpreted. The phrase consists of some—but not all—of the following: leering, honking, whistling, sexist comments, vulgar gestures, sexually explicit comments, kissing noises, following, blocking paths, sexual touching or grabbing, targeted public masturbation and even assault or, in some cases, murder.

Members of the LGBTQIQA experience similar disrespect and harmful treatment because of violence motivated by the person’s actual or perceived gender expression or sexual orientation.

According to a report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, 53 percent of transgender Americans have reported being harassed in public, while 8 percent of transgender people report experience physical assault.

“The harassment of LGBTQIQA people is similarly about a social terrorism that attempts to render gender and sexual minorities invisible by forcing them out of the public realm,” Dr. Ryan said.

Gender-based street harassment can also involve elements of racism, homophobia, classism and/or ableism and can be a complex issue with many root causes.

In similar studies, research on street harassment has been conducted all over the world. In 2000, a group of sociologists in Canada conducted a study of the effects of street harassment and perceived sense safety and found that over 80 percent of women had been through stranger harassment. These experiences had a damaging impact on their safety and how they felt in public.

Yet, the Canada report found that victims don’t seem to feel inclined to speak out or act in defiance of it because they are afraid of the possible threat of violence or being seen as dramatic.

At Georgia State, students shared their thoughts on what consitutes a violent threat, remark, or action, and the fine line between what’s right and wrong.

“It’s something trans folks go through daily. And it’s hard for a lot of trans folks, because harassment can lead to violent altercations,” Taylor Alexander, President of the Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, said.

“Street Harassment is verbal and potentially physical abuse. The harassers expect you to always smile and respond to whatever sexist comments or questions they have. There is no way to prevent it. All you can do is not let those comments or acts affect who you are and how you choose to present yourself to the public,”
Leah Clark, Psychology Major, said.

To help with the cause, organizations and online safe spots have popped up in recent years to provide victims an outlet.

Organizations such as Everyday Sexism, Hollaback and Stop Street Harassment host firsthand incidents to raise awareness of street harassment. These resources offer a venting space and chance to listen to others’ stories.

Holly Kearl, founder of Stop Street Harassment, wrote a book titled “50 Stories About Stopping Street Harassers” offering entertaining and empowering stories to increase the sense of safety.

Georgia State alumna Mandy Van Deven got her start as an activist at Georgia State and moved to New York City to work as an organizer for Girls for Gender Equity. She co-wrote the book “Hey, Shorty! A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets.” Van Deven is visiting Georgia State on Nov. 29 to host a discussion on street harassment in the Troy Moore Library,

Groups of people who want to help stop street harassment are also taking to the Internet and public art spaces to get their voices heard.

The viral video Shit Men Say to Men Who Say Shit to Women on the Street advocates for men to speak up when they see others openly harassing others.

Dannie Brown, sophomore psychology major, said even compliments meant to sound nice or helpful can also be subtle forms of street harassment.

“It] turns into harassment when they say something like ‘You’re too pretty to be gay,’ or ‘I can help you out with that.’ That’s when it becomes sexual harassment because we didn’t ask for you to put your extra two cents in, all you had to say was I was pretty, that’s fine because your just complimenting me. When you add your two cents about helping me out with something that needs no help, that’s when it becomes sexual harassment,” she said.

Within the montage, a man insists, “I don’t care how she’s dressed, it’s not okay. It’s not a compliment.” Two men advise, “You’re giving all of us a bad name.” Another man deadpans, “Misogyny, super sexy.”

FX’s Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell produced a comedy segment that involved Bell taking to the streets asking women and men what they think of street harassment and openly mocking those who said that women found it “flattering.”

Bell asked the women how often it happens to them and they all answered that “every day” they were victims of street harassment.

When Bell asked a man, what he thinks of street harassment, he said that he saw it as a good thing.

“I think street harassment is good, you know? I think women need that. It makes them feel better about themselves.” When asked by Bell how to prevent it from happening, a woman replied, “You’re a dude. Talk to your dudes, have that conversation with your boys.”

With similar intentions, Brooklyn-based artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh started an art series in 2012 titled “Stop Telling Women to Smile.”

“[The series] attempts to address gender-based street harassment by placing drawn portraits of women composed with captions that speak directly to offenders outside in public spaces,” according to Fazlalizadeh’s site.

This art project became popular enough to fund a KickStarter, allowing Fazlalizadeh to travel to popular cities and create portraits with different, personal messages. She plans to visit Atlanta to spread her artwork.

With the amount of campaigns and activists rising, why is street harassment as prevalent as it is?

“We can understand street harassment as a mechanism of social control.” Dr. Ryan said. “Scholars have long argued that the street harassment of women is about the control of public space in a society where historically women had been relegated to the private sphere of the home and men had complete control of public life. While public space is gendered, it is also sexualized as heterosexual.”

From a legal standpoint, there is not much students can do to someone yelling, harassing or giving them unwanted sexual suggestions. However, several classes of existing laws could provide legal remedies for women who are harassed in public. For example, street harassers facing prosecution could face sexual assault charges and “fighting words” statutes.

Harassed individuals can also file civil suits against their perpetrators as well, including assault, intentional
infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy.

If the harasser is threatening, touching,
following you, flashing, masturbating at you, or persisting in other forms of
harassment, you can report it to the police or a security officer.

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