By: Kambria Ruffin
While sitting on the subway, Debjani Roy, Deputy Director at Hollaback!, was on the way home from a long day at work. Across from her was a man who continued to make inappropriate sounds and faces at Roy. If she wasn’t uncomfortable before, she sure was bothered later as the stranger took his privates out of his pants right there in front of her.
Street harassment is “the unwelcomed, inappropriate, or threatening action, or words, usually motivated by gender or sexual basis,” according to Hollaback!, a grassroots activism organization that raises awareness of gender-based violence, combats street harassment, and provides a platform for women to share their stories. Roy, who says the harassment she experienced on the subway left her feeling unsafe, argues that it is often hard for women to seek help in these kinds of situations.
Erika Carroll, a student with a part-time job, says she often times she has to take different ways home on certain streets, because she can run into men who cat-call at her.
“They treat me like I’m wearing hooker heels and a bikini,” she says. “It’s really uncomfortable.”
According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, 33 percent of women will experience street harassment in their lifetime, though many women and non-profit organizations like HollaBack! have chosen to take a stand against it. There is not much legislation that makes street harassment or “cat-calling” illegal in its non-violent forms, according to a legal analysis done by Hollaback!’s legal team.
“The first half of street harassment is not criminalized,” says Roy. “It is really a spectrum. It starts with the ‘hey baby, can I get your number?’ and turns into the leering, smacking of lips, and whistling, then it’s being groped and grabbed,” Roy says, “It is one of the first forms of gender-based violence that women will experience.”
Ta’naysha Smith, a 20-year-old student, said she was 18 years old when she first experienced street harassment. “Men could be relentless,” Smith said. “It’s the consistency that makes it harassment.”
Hollaback! encourages people to share their stories using the Hollaback! application or on their website. Addressing street harassment can reduce the impact of trauma, according to the Worker Institute at Cornell University and Hollaback!
“I personally feel I walk differently on the streets now. There is a strength that was not there before, and that is all thanks to Hollaback!” said Ingrid Vanderhoeven, a Hollaback! member in a testimonial.