The First Global Guide On Street Harassment Helps Women Learn Their Legal Rights

CREDIT: REUTERS/Stringer via Street Harassment: Know Your Rights

A woman walks past a building decorated with a pair of eyes in the Crimean city of Sevastopol

A new global guide on issues of street harassment intends to serve as a legal resource for women around the world who are plagued by gender-based violence as they move through public spaces.

Spearheaded by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the international nonprofit Hollaback!, the new “Know Your Rights” document purports to be the first guide of its kind to address an issue that’s gained increasing public awareness. A product of collaboration across different legal teams around the world, it includes the latest information on street harassment laws for 36 jurisdictions across 22 countries and in 12 different languages.

“We hope that this guide will become a tool to support advocates, legislators and citizens in their fight to end street harassment worldwide,” Monique Villa, the CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, writes to introduce the document.

A growing body of research is helping to illustrate the scope of this issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “non-contact unwanted sexual experiences,” a category that includes street harassment, is the most prevalent form of sexual violence for both men and women. A recent report from the advocacy group Stop Street Harassment estimated that 65 percent of American women have experienced unwanted attention from strangers on the street.

Although some some people may think of catcalling as a harmless attempt to compliment attractive women, advocates emphasize that street harassment should be viewed on the spectrum of gender-based violence because it often escalates into something more serious. Indeed, just last week, two incidents of street harassment took violent turns that left one woman in the hospital and one woman dead.

The activists at Hollaback! do not support efforts to criminalize street harassment as a whole, pointing out that efforts to crack down on unwanted advances on the street could end up reinforcing the criminal justice system’s over-policing of communities of color. Even though it’s a myth that catcalling happens more in low-income and non-white areas — it’s actually most common in high-density places like Times Square — the criminal justice system has a long history of racial profiling.

Nonetheless, the group thinks it’s important for victims of street harassment to understand the scope of the laws in their area. “It is our sincere hope that by helping people understand their rights, they will be better equipped to decide if legal recourse is the right path for them,” Emily May, the executive direct of Hollaback!, said in a statement released alongside the new report.

Plus, continuing to raise awareness about the issues related to street harassment may eventually usher in a more widespread culture change to ensure that catcalling becomes socially unacceptable. Hollaback! encourages people to share their personal stories with harassment, something that has been more common thanks to social media. Last spring, women across the country shared their experiences with everyday violence and harassment under the hashtag #YesAllWomen, something that sparked a national conversation about the misogynistic attitudes that allow these dynamics to flourish.