Street Harassment: The Uncomfortable Walk Home
According to several studies cited by Holly Kearl, author of the new book Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women, between 80 and 99 percent of women have been the targets of aggressive, unwanted attention from male strangers. When she polled 800 women, Kearl found that 75 percent had been followed, and 57 percent had been sexually touched or grabbed in the street by male strangers, some when they were just ten years old.
This epidemic has serious consequences: University of Connecticut researchers found that “the experience of street harassment is directly related to greater preoccupation with physical appearance and body shame, and is indirectly related to heightened fears of rape.” In a country where one in three women is sexually assaulted in her lifetime, such fears are not unfounded.
Ten percent of women report quitting a job in order to avoid a harassment-heavy commute. Street harassment also decreases its victims’ workplace productivity, and it makes them limit their time in public spaces. Kearl argues in favor of creating laws against gender-based street harassment, the way there are laws against other forms of harassment.