Every day, women around the world share stories about being harassed on the street. Men yell at these women, screaming about their bodies, whooping and hollering at their walk and threatening them with attacks and rape, sometimes even escalating from verbal assaults to physical ones.
Sixty-five percent of American women have experienced this kind of street harassment, according to a study last year. In our society, it is commonplace for women to hear “Come at me, baby,” and “Take off your clothes,” and women are expected to prepare themselves for this unacceptable treatment. Women are told never to walk alone at night, to cover up their bodies and to ignore these threatening comments. They are expected to live in a state of fear and accept nothing can be done about it. Some people even blame the women, citing the common characterization of men as not being able to control themselves.
The specifics of what a woman chooses to wear vary between religions, cultures and individual people. But a man does not have the right to threaten a woman’s physical safety, no matter what the situation is. A video surfaced online in October showing a woman being harassed 108 times just walking down the street in New York City. The woman was not harassed 108 times because what she was wearing was disgraceful or because men could not control themselves. Harassment continues because it is often unaddressed by society, which enables men to get away with this rampant
NYU has taken huge steps to try to combat sexual assault on campus through a revised sexual assault policy and mandatory sexual misconduct training. However, while the policy prohibits “any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors or other unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, whether verbal, non-verbal, graphic, physical or otherwise,” there is still a fight that needs to be fought against street harassment for women’s safety. The new mandatory online training works to prevent sexual assault between partners, but fails to address harassment of strangers.
The main goal currently is for a woman to remain unharmed in a society where threats and advances will inevitably be made against her. This might include taking steps that she ideally would not have to take, such as not fighting back against a perpetrator or making sure she does not walk alone at night. However, once she is safe, the stories of threats and catcalls need to be told. Whether it is through a university policy, federal law, individual action or a dialogue with friends, others need to take the steps to make sure the harasser is stigmatized rather than the victim. Street harassment is contemptible, but choosing to ignore the problem or blame the victim is the true disgrace.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 20 print edition. Email Larson Binzer at [email protected]