Street harassment causes discomfort among students

Maeve Handley, Staff Writer

“It’s unsettling,” said junior Caledonia Wilson,”it’s like you don’t have ownership over your body.”

According to Stop Street Harassment, a nonprofit activism group, street harassment is defined as “any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcoming, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender or sexual orientation.”

43% of South students have been harassed while getting to and/or from school. The Southerner surveyed a range of students in all grades, races and genders. People shared stories about the situations they have been in, if they were bothered, if they felt safe, and whether or not they changed their behavior since their incident.

“I usually walk really fast with my head down,” Wilson said of her experience. “Sometimes I can tell when it will be a bad day. One time I ended up walking in really short shorts and was like ‘this is not going to be a good day.’ It happened like 3 times.”

Either walking or biking, students have problems on Lake Street. “I have to go down Lake Street, and there is always someone honking or talking, trying to get your attention, it’s uncomfortable and awkward.” said freshman Ryan Kane.

In 2000, a study performed in the United States by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates showed that 84% of women in the United States “considered changing their behavior to avoid street harassment.” 29.5% of South girls reported being bothered by a statement while getting to and from school this year.

“I am not going to change anything for them,” junior Sheridan Moore stated when asked if she has changed her behavior.

Women often pass off the attention they receive on the street as just another day-to-day thing. Holly Kearl, founder of Stop Street Harassment, offered her professional opinion as to why this happens:

“We’ve been taught from a young age that this is normal and just something we have to live with,” Kearl said. “Harassed persons end up changing their lives in lots of ways and just frankly don’t feel as safe or as comfortable in public spaces.”

Female students are not the only ones being harassed. 13.5% of male students have said that they have been bothered.

It is difficult to find resources on men being harassed like women on the street. According to the Southerner’s survey, 16% more females than males reported being harassed, with girls more prone to harassment based on their body or how they look. Males, however, have reported just being asked if they have money.

“He [a man on the street] asked for money and we sort of ignored him. He and his friend got in our way a little bit,” junior Johan Cavert recalled.

“I’m a generous guy. If someone asks me for a dollar, I give it to them,” sophomore Isak Douah says.

People blame parents and media for not teaching (most) young males respect. “We were taught to objectify women because we live in a TV world,” reflected Kareem Watkins, an insurance adjustor interviewed by CNN for an article on street harassment.

Kearl further identified this social phenomenon by saying, “[We, women] adapt ourselves by avoiding making eye contact, walking fast, not talking to strangers, and more. Even if we don’t like it, we may feel we’ve brought it on ourselves or be unsure what we’re supposed to do, so it’s often easier to try to ignore or avoid it.”

Street harassment is one part of a greater trend of victim blaming, otherwise known as rape culture. It appears in police offices and rape trials, on TV and on the streets, making it okay to put the blame for sexual abuse and attention on the victim.

Street harassment is the most common form of sexual violence towards men and women. The long term effects of street harassment include depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), decrease in mobility and feeling a lack of safety. Kearl believes that there has been an increase in reportings since people have become much more aware of it and how street harassment is not okay.  However, citizens still face “Lighten up, it’s a compliment,” when reporting it to the authorities.

On the Stop Street Harassment blog, a New York City woman shared her story about dealing with a difficult police officer. She was jogging when a man threw a dollar bill at her. When she reported it to her precinct, the officer replied  “I’d like it if someone threw money at me,” then proceeded to laugh at the situation. 60% of sexual harassment cases are unreported according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) statistics, a portion of that is due to the intimidating and sometimes difficult police officers victims face when reporting incidents.

Street harassment is a violation of human rights. While many people of all genders, races, religion, class, and education have experienced street harassment, with the technology our society has today, people are encouraging everyone to speak up and out about how to stop it.

“Thanks to the Internet, people realize they are not alone,” stated Kearl. “Through connecting online, groups and people have also been able to do strategic organizing and collaborative work, such as working on petitions together, lobbying transit authorities to hold campaigns, and holding rallies and other events, and all of these efforts are having an impact.”

Education on street harassment has increased within the past years, but stories from 200 years ago closely resemble the stories from today according to Rochelle Keyhan, director of HollabackPHILLY (a non-profit activism group) who has extensively researched the topic of street harassment . It will take time to stop street harassment, just like it took time to get people to care about educating people about street harassment.

South students have shared their beliefs on how to stop street harassment. Sophomore Rex Otto said that “[by being] respectful members of society,” we could stop street harassment.

Moore said, “I really think its a horrible thing and needs to end. Stop teaching people not to get raped and teach rapists not to rape.”