Scotland Street Harassment Law

June 27, 2008

According to the TimesOnline:

“Building-site workers who wolf-whistle and shout obscene remarks at passing females risk being placed on the sex offenders register under new laws.

The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill will create a new offence of ‘communicating indecently’, punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

The legislation is intended to punish sexual harassment by text, e-mails and letters, but ministers also aim to include sexually explicit comments to strangers.

It is expected that the law would only apply to persistent offenders.

At the moment, workmen who repeatedly make obscene comments to passers-by can be convicted of a breach of the peace.

Under the new law, if a woman has been verbally harassed on more than one occasion by a workman despite making her displeasure known, a procurator fiscal could pursue a charge of communicating indecently against the perpetrator. Those convicted would automatically be placed on the sex offenders register.”

It’s great that Scotland is recognizing the seriousness of street harassment by legislating against it! The downside of this law (and any other law I’ve seen relating to street harassment) is the unrealistic aspect. I wonder how often will the street harassment be exactly this kind of scenario? How frequently will the person being harassed be able to identify the harasser and prove that he has harassed her multiple times after she has stated her displeasure with it? Maybe things are different in Scotland but my experiences with street harassment have never been like that. They’ve all been one time deals by men I don’t know and would probably have a hard time ever finding again or identifying, especially when I’m harassed by guys in passing vehicles.

While I applaud Scotland for indicating street harassment is socially unacceptable through this legislation, I still think that a multi-layered approach (including legal recourse when applicable) is necessary in trying to end street harassment.

For anyone interested in laws and street harassment, may I recommend a few resources:

  1. Cynthia Grant Bowman’s article “Street Harassment and the Informal Ghettoization of Women
  2. Tiffanie Heben’s article “A Radical Reshaping of the Law: Interpreting and Remedying Street Harassment”
  3. Laura Beth Nielsen’s book License to Harass: Law, Hierarchy, and Offensive Public Speech
  4. Massachusetts School of Law discussion about street harassment and the law (25 minute video)
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Afraid and Unsafe

June 24, 2008

I have had the good fortune of being able to travel in many urban, rural and suburban places and for the most part have felt safe, that is until recently when I was verbally attacked in a series of vulgar harassments and racial slurs in a neighborhood in Brooklyn.  And the worst part about the situation, is that I’ll never feel safe walking in that neighborhood again. Some people try and downplay this kind of occurrence by calling it “cat-calling” or “hitting on” or even “compliments from a stranger,” but street harassment can create real mental and physical boundaries, just by making a person feel afraid and unsafe. — Anonymous


Humanity could care less

June 18, 2008

A couple days ago I went to a restaurant with my friends. I had two gay friends with me, one was a complete femme girl, and the other was a gay guy, who YES, wore makeup. We were sitting normally, like any other people would have, until I just happened to notice all these cold stares from the whole restaurant staring straight at him. Staring would be rather a kind word in this situation. I looked at him, and for some reason he didn’t notice, or maybe he did, but was just trying to let it go. I stared right back at all the people, until SOME actually started to look away. They were staring at him as if he was Adolf Hitler and just walked in the room with a billion deaths on his hands. The poor boy wanted to EAT, and that’s what he got. I hate how people don’t even have manners anymore, just because people are gay does not mean they’re animals in a zoo and meant to be stared, pointed, and looked down upon. He kept telling me to stop, and that I am causing even more attention. I didn’t care, let there be attention, now there would have been a real show. I tried to make him understand that he cannot and would not ever settle for that kind of harassment. He of course told me to stop, and to his favor i had to. I understood afterwards that it happens so much to him, that simply pretending to be a wall is his only hope to get away from it. I respect people’s beliefs and if they think that homosexuals are ‘living the wrong lifestyles’ they don’t have to show their pure hatred towards them. Hating is just as a big sin as homosexuality, and everyone just makes me crazy. In the end my friend was completely right, you have to learn how to control yourself and ignore them, that’s all you can do. Starting something or saying something back will only make it worse.

– Linda


Tragedy and a Play

June 16, 2008

I’d be remiss not to mention the recent death of a young woman who was shot by young men at a red light after she and her friends refused to give them their phone numbers. It chills my blood that her life is over because she refused to give out her phone number. It is just horrendous. It’s a reminder that street harassment isn’t harmless and there’s no guarantee of safety, even from inside one’s own car. This incident is similar to one that Hawley Fogg-Davis wrote about in her article “A Black Feminist Critique of Same-Sex Street Harassment.”

As a person very interested in ways we can work to combat street harassment, I feel somewhat baffled about how to prevent murders from happening in street harassment encounters. I always suggest a multi-layered approach to ending street harassment, through tactics like talking about one’s experiences with street harassment, educating others about it, confronting harassers, and intervening when others are harassed. Would any of these tactics have really stopped these young men? It seems like no matter how these women reacted to the men – ignoring, talking back, etc – they were going to get shot at because the men must have been plain crazy. Who shoots someone if they don’t give you their phone number?! It’s hard not to get discouraged by this sort of incident. It shows the darkest side of humanity. But I guess we can’t let ourselves be defeated and we’ve got to keep on educating people about street harassment and hope that one day people won’t have to lose their lives in cases of street harassment …

On a more upbeat note, for anyone in NYC tonight, HollabackNYC is partnering with Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) and the Coffee Cup theatre in their new production, “Standing Clear” – a comedy about the distance we put between us on the subway. The play will be followed by a talk back featuring Joanne Smith, founder and executive director of GGE, and Emily May, GGE board member and founder of HollabackNYC.com. The play will be followed by a wine and cheese reception and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to GGE. Purchase tickets.


Street Harassment Activists

June 3, 2008

I’ve been working on collecting street harassment resources and information about street harassment activists for my stop street harassment website. I am really impressed and inspired by the great work people are doing out there. Street harassment upsets me a great deal, but I admit I have never done much to stop it besides just researching it. This blog and the companion website are my first attempts and they’re pretty tame compared to the great work others are doing. I encourage you all to check out their work and I’ll be adding more of my finds this weekend. I’m working on getting my own interviews with various activists too, so those will be posted later on.

Feel free to let me know about any activism you’ve been involved in or activities you know about. I’m on the hunt! Thanks to all the street harassment activists out there for working to make life better for all women who go out in public 🙂