A new national study has put some hard numbers behind what many women, people of color and those identifying as LGBT have long experienced and feared: street harassment. Commissioned by Stop Street Harassment and authored by Holly Kearl, the report underscores how pervasive and unregulated this problem is, and that it’s not merely a nuisance, but a human rights violation.
According to the report’s key findings, harassment in public spaces is a significant problem in the United States, with 65% of women reporting they have experienced some form of street harassment in their lifetimes. What’s more, 57% of all women have experienced verbal harassment, with 41% reporting physically aggressive forms, including sexual touching (23%), following (20%), flashing (14%), and being forced to do something sexual (9%). For men, 25% experienced street harassment, including 18% who experienced verbal harassment and 16% who experienced physically aggressive forms.
As anyone who has been harassed can attest to, a single incident is disturbing enough. But street harassers don’t follow a one-and-done protocol; eighty-six percent of women and 79% of men who reported being harassed said they had been harassed more than once.
In addition to breaking down responses by sex, the report provides data disaggregated by race and sexual orientation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people of color and those identifying as LGBT report experiencing harassment at higher rates.
Whether it’s a seemingly innocuous “hey baby” to more overtly sexualized and threatening phrases and actions, street harassment is a real problem. When women and others, who are targeted based on pubic perceptions of and assumptions about their identities, feel unsafe, humiliated and scared in public spaces, it’s a violation of their human rights. The right to move freely underpins the very concept of rights, and considering that most harassed persons change their lives in response to their experiences — from avoiding being alone in public to changing neighborhoods, transportation routes or jobs because of harassers — it becomes clear that street harassment is so much more than disrespect; it’s gender violence.
And, much like other forms of violence, street harassment takes emotional and psychological tolls on victims and prevents equality. As the study astutely points out, street harassment is a symptom of inequality and keeps harassed persons from fully participating and thriving in the world. It must end.
Luckily, most people (91%) believe there are concrete steps we can take to stop street harassment. Study participants were asked for their ideas on addressing street harassment. Their responses ranged from more security cameras in public spaces and increased presence of law enforcement, to educational workshops in schools and communities about respectful ways to interact with strangers, and training law enforcement to better identify and intervene in harassment situations.
For the full study, which is chock full of interesting data, please visit http://www.stopstreetharassment.com.