Catcalling epidemic must be recognized


Walking down Grand Street on a sunny day, you would expect nothing but the quiet hum of traffic and pedestrians toting shopping bags. But instead, you notice a white van slowing down next to you as its window rolls down. A man with a smile begins to shout sexual expletives at you, and you freeze — should you speak up or should you stay silent? Are you safe?

I was placed in this position earlier in the semester, and it was not my first time experiencing catcalling on the streets of New York. Although verbal harassment affects all genders and sexualities, women experience the majority of gender-specific harassment. It is time for NYU to speak up against the verbal abuse that occurs daily.

This past week, the topic of catcalling went viral once again thanks to Jessica Williams’ segment on “The Daily Show,” which discussed verbal sexual harassment on the streets of New York. But what Williams presents as a joke cleverly widens the eyes of the audience — all of her “fun solutions” for avoiding catcallers are techniques that many female students have needed to try.

Not everyone believes in the negativity of catcalling, however. Controversy struck when New York Post writer Doree Lewak’s Aug. 18 piece about catcalling urged women to “deal with it,” and compared being called out on the street to a “euphoria.” This very public statement of sexual harassment as a confidence-booster is one of the reasons that such behavior continues today. Solidifying a dialogue against catcalling is the first step to ameliorate the city streets.

NYU released their reformed sexual misconduct policy on Sept. 30, consisting of positive changes regarding rulings on sexual assault, consent and stalking. Though these alterations are necessary, there was not an opening of dialogue on catcalling in the new policies, such as including catcalling in its awareness programs. 

Some local organizations have attempted to take action against catcalling, including Hollaback  and Stop Street Harassment, two nonprofits that raise awareness of the issue of street harassment and offer methods and resources for feeling safer on the streets. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority also has plans to further action against sexual harassment on subways through public service announcements and the installation of 900 camera surveillance.

Those who are catcalled are told that certain items of clothing “ask for” unwanted attention. A recent trend is to blame the wearer for inappropriate actions toward them, which instills and even defends such behavior. Continuing to teach people that dressing a certain way asks for inappropriate actions is not only incorrect, but also a dangerous mindset. NYU and other universities must work with existing organizations to create independent programs that not only identify street harassment as a problem, but also form policies to deal with this unrelenting issue.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 8 print issue. Email Dana Reszutek at [email protected]