Newton: Ending street harassment


Sydney Newton

April 10-16 is international Anti-Street Harassment Week. This week is observed in more than 30 different countries around the world, and it’s a call for action on the prevalent social problem of gender-based street harassment. Street harassment not only affects women but also LGBTQ individuals globally.

In 2014, Stop Street Harassment conducted a 2,000 person national survey in the United States with surveying firm GfK. This survey found that 65 percent of all women had experienced street harassment, more than half the women in the country. This is an issue that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Verbal harassment and catcalling are not only forms of gender violence but also human-rights violations. In a college town like our own, the opportunities for this kind of harassment are extremely frequent.

Street harassment is something that tends to be overlooked and not taken seriously. Street harassment creates unsafe environments for women and members of the LGBTQ community. I think street harassment tends to be ignored because it is perceived as being the norm, or people think that “there’s nothing we can do about it.”

However, something needs to be done. The start of street harassment can turn into something scarier. When our society has the mindset that catcalling is “innocent” or a “compliment,” the groping, gestures, and actions can turn into serious assault and potentially, rape.

On March 25, the University of Iowa police sent out a crime alert about a sexual assault that had occurred in an East Side residence hall. It marked the 13th reported sexual misconduct of the 2015-16 school year. But there are groups here on campus that are dedicated to changing the status quo.

RELATED: Police settlements and lessons learned

An organization formed here in Iowa City called End Street Harassment has made enormous steps in the fight to end catcalling. This week, it has held events designed to bring awareness to the issue.

Unfortunately, catcalling and harassment is something that many women and LGBTQ individuals experience daily. If there are women who haven’t experienced it, they might not even notice when it happens because it has become so common. We have become so used to harassment that at this point, we have learned to ignore it.

Stella Hart, a founding member of Iowa City’s anti-street harassment group, notes the problems.

“We are fortunate that Iowa City is a walkable and bike-friendly community, but too often, individuals are prevented from traveling through public space in safety and dignity due to verbal, physical, and sexual harassment and stalking,” she said. “The events my group, End SH IC, have planned this week are to raise awareness and empower those who have experienced street harassment to know that they are not alone, harassment is not okay, and we are fighting back.”

The Rape Victim Advocacy Program, also recently held an event in honor of anti-street harassment week, called #hawkeyesdontharass. Banners and signs were created with such sayings as “catcalls are not compliments” and “my body is not public property.”

No one deserves to be disrespected or feel unsafe for simply walking along the sidewalk. Thankfully, our university is making strides to fight against street harassment, and hopefully, this issue will gain the recognition it deserves.


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