Over 80 per cent of people said they have been street harassed before in a Hatch survey. Image: Shannen Findlay

The plague of street harassment

Street harassment can be defined as catcalling, unwanted gestures, touching, name calling and can be sexual in nature.

Hatch conducted a survey into people’s experiences of street harassment, finding that 82 per cent of the female respondents had experienced it in some form. Of those females who reported experiencing street harassment, 62 per cent said that it was sexual in nature.

The survey asked for people’s experiences regarding street harassment, if they had ever been confronted by it and what their ways of ensuring safety and mitigating the chance of being harassed on the streets were. Of the 48 respondents, 89 per cent were women and 11 per cent were men. Although none of the male respondents had experienced street harassment, all but two of the women had.

One male respondent said he advised women to switch train carriages if they “detected the wrong crowd,” and when walking home to stay “close to houses with lights on at night.”

“I have a habit of sending my live location to my best friend or whoever I’m texting at the time, in case I get kidnapped…”

Based on the results of the survey, women showed higher concern about street harassment and reported taking more extensive measures to ensure their safety.

The OECD showed similar results, with over 77 per cent of men saying they feel safe to walk home alone at night while 61 per cent of women say they feel safe walking home at night.

“If I’m really scared I have a habit of sending my live location to my best friend or whoever I’m texting at the time, in case I get kidnapped… As soon as I get into my car I check my back seat in case someone’s hiding behind them, then I lock all my doors,” one female respondent said.

“Some people laugh at this but it’s something I do out of habit now. I’ve watched enough movies now to know what could happen.”

“He said something about how girls get big (referring to my chest) so quickly nowadays.”

One respondent told Hatch the first time she had been harassed by an older man was when she was 11, and wearing her Sunday church outfit.

“I was wearing a skirt for church and an old man told me I looked stunning, and asked how old I was… He said something about how girls get big (referring to my chest) so quickly nowadays. He then tried to touch my hand but I ran away. It was 9:30 on a Sunday morning and there were over 20 people surrounding us.”

The results also showed that over 60 per cent of the females surveyed had experienced some form of street harassment before the age of 16.

“There’s been times when cars and truck beep their horn, I’ve had sexual gestures done towards me from a truck driver and I was really young… Whistled at plenty of times, men sticking their tongues out, being sexual with it,” one respondent said.

18-year-old student, Cassidy* says street harassment is something that she no longer registers as violent or personal.

“It’s been like this since I was about 7 or 8 for me. Men calling me beautiful even though they have greys, asking to hold my hand and give me kisses even though i’m 11.”

Cassidy says the scariest experience for her was when she was waiting for a bus at the age of 12, and a car full of boys insisted on picking her and her friend up. “They just would not stop, it was traumatising… My mum doesn’t really let me go anywhere by myself after that [sic], not that I want to anyway. My boyfriend gets dragged to watch me swatch eyeshadows or like buy toilet paper…”

hand, cigarette
Cassidy, 18, says her mother first taught her how to protect herself against street harassment when she was eight-years-old. Image: Shannen Findlay

“I can’t catch public transport by myself without having several panic attacks,” she said.

An study conducted by Promundo focused on understanding masculinity in Middle Eastern and North African countries.

Researchers aimed to understand the motivation behind street harassment from men.

When asked why they catcalled women, the majority of men, responded along the lines of, “It’s fun.”

The results of the survey showed a direct correlation between depression in men and catcalling women.

Researchers believe as a result of intense pressures men may face in their own personal lives, their stress is taken out on women in the streets.

Researchers from Promundo acknowledge that these motivations are not unique to the Middle East and North Africa.

“You won’t ever see me asking a guy for his number then calling him an ugly dog because he said no.”

“We know that street harassment is an issue around the world, and there are likely similar dynamics at play,” says Brian Heilman who assisted in the survey at Promundo. “We just happen to have a rich glimpse of what it looks like in [this] region through this data set.”

may be repurposed
Image: Shannen Findlay

However, Cassidy believes the motivations behind street harassment are not that simple and should not be accepted because of a perception of hardship among the perpetrators.

“I have stuff going on all the time. Heartbreak, loss, depression… anxiety. And yet you won’t ever see me asking a guy for his number then calling him an ugly dog because he said no.”

“We let men off too easily,” she said.

“Treating this issue as if it is isolated to the behaviours of a few rogue individuals is not acceptable,” says Lisa Heap, a professor at the Australian Catholic University’s Institute for Religion Politics and Society in an article for the ABC.

Free to Be Me, an interactive survey highlighting areas in certain cities that have been reported by women as unsafe, has been rolled out in Sydney.

This interactive map made by Plan International has taken thousands of women’s experiences and highlighted the locations of areas to be aware of.

This interactive map covers Sydney, Deli, Kampala, Lima and Madrid.

A majority of Hatch’s survey respondents said they always try to use Uber or catch a ride home if they’re out at night, and there was a strong focus on not wearing headphones.

“I always wear a hoodie to look like a guy, honestly it works,” one woman said.

Cassidy says her mother taught her to hold her keys between her fingers as a weapon against “shady figures” at 8 years old.

“Be aware, always be aware. But most of all be smart.”

Support is available by phoning National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service 1800 737 732; Men’s Referral Service 1300 766 491.

– Shannen Findlay

*Not their real names.