Not all catcalls, whistling and hollering is punishable by law. But there’s something very wrong when a girl walking alone is afraid for her safety.
The issue of street harassment generall has two sides to it — what’s illegal and what isn’t. Having someone follow you home, for instance, would justify calling the police, but someone yelling
“I want to fuck you” wouldn’t.
The problem is that harassment is so normalized that even when an incident falls within the range of a criminal offence, it often goes unreported.
Many people are unaware of where the line lies between criminal harassment and someone being offensive, which means serious incidents get lumped in with everyday occurrences of harassment and are then shrugged off.
But none of us should be shrugging any of this off.
When behaviour is only considered unethical when it’s illegal, a lot of unacceptable social conduct slips through the cracks.
You’d be hard pressed to find a female Queen’s student who hasn’t experienced street harassment. But neither Kingston Police nor Campus Security have clear records on how many incidents of street harassment have occurred.
Whether it’s to the police or Campus Security, we should be reporting harassment more, because until there are numbers, there isn’t a problem.
However, we often place too much of the onus on victims to report or stand up to perpetrators. When confronted with a group of men at night, or a comment flung out the window of a moving vehicle, there’s only so much one woman can do.
Instead, the responsibility is on all of us. When you see it happen, or are told after the fact, don’t stand by. Be aware and active in not letting unacceptable behaviour pass unremarked.
The acceptance of street harassment is a cultural norm, making it difficult to identify, let alone correct.
And it’s naïve to say we can entirely educate it out of people. An environment where men feel entitled and even pressured to harass female passersby is the product of deeply-rooted social conceptions of femininity and hypermasculinity that should be questioned by both genders.
But gradually we can build a culture where people are more conscious of the consequences of what they do or say.
A culture where, hopefully, it’s not okay to harass a girl walking down the street.
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