Your Leer Isn’t A Compliment, It’s Street Harassment
A recent survey conducted by not for profit organisation Stop Street Harassment found that 99% of the over 800 women surveyed had suffered from street harassment.
While street harassment is by no means experienced exclusively by women (gay and bisexual men report that they also commonly suffer from street harassment), it is still an unwelcome part of everyday life for the majority of women. From being the target of sexist comments to having strangers touch or grab at them in a sexual way in public, street harassment is an issue that is disproportionately affecting women everywhere.
Stop Street Harassment defines street harassment as “Unwelcome words and actions by unknown persons in public places which are motivated by gender and invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary, or insulting way.”
While sexual harassment laws do exist (predominantly within work environments), there is no legislation in Australia that explicitly outlaws street harassment. Bianca Fileborn, an academic from the University of LaTrobe’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, believes this is due to a disregard for women’s experiences. From perpetrators to members of parliament, there is a tendency to “downplay women’s experiences of street harassment and sexual harassment in day-to-day life.” She said. “Many people do not consider the impact and consequences that such harassment can have on women.”
Many women have taken to taking precautionary action to try and avoid being victims of street harassment, including dressing differently, crossing streets/taking different routes, paying to exercise at a gym instead of outside, and even moving neighbourhoods.
Street harassment should not be seen as the “norm” and women should not simply “expect” to be yelled after or even followed, simply because offenders believe that they have to right to objectify women and have women respond positively to this kind of behaviour. Organisations such as Hollaback! are leading the way to try and change public perceptions about street harassment, and the real impacts that it can have upon women and their lives.