Enough With The Catcalls

By Rachel Cromidas RedEye, Chicago.

"Keep running, baby."

Danielle Sullivan, 19, a student at Loyola University Chicago, was sick of hearing comments like that one around her Rogers Park home, particularly when she goes out jogging in the mornings. The comments, she said, typically came from men she didn't know and many referenced her physical appearance.

"It makes me feel dirty when it happens. I usually do feel threatened, and sometimes I feel frustrated," Sullivan said.

So on a recent weekend, Sullivan and a group of about two dozen fellow students--women and men--who felt similarly took to the streets to send a message of their own.

Taking chalk to sidewalk, they wrote "Catcallscompliments," and, "I'm glad you think I'm pretty, just don't make me feel unsafe," and other statements around the Loyola and Granville CTA stations.

Street harassment can run the gamut from an unwanted catcall to an uninvited touch or stalking; some people experience street harassment as a near-daily, uncomfortable fact of life, while for others it can be a traumatizing form of sexual violence, according to advocates who have been organizing around the problem.

Efforts to combat street harassment have gained prominence in recent years. Earlier this week a viral video published by Hollaback!, an international anti-street harassment nonprofit, shows a woman on the receiving end of catcalls dozens of times while walking through New York City in a T-shirt and jeans.

Others have attempted to document the problem on social media.

Sullivan's chalk writing near Loyola University Chicago included the hashtag #WeWILLHollaback to encourage students and other passersby to participate in the conversation online.

"We thought it was the most tangible way for people to see that street harassment is going on," Sullivan said of her action. "It goes on all over the city, and we had all experienced it."

Nearly 65 percent of women have experienced some form of street harassment, according to one of the first national surveys on street harassment, published by the advocacy organization Stop Street Harassment earlier this year. The survey found that 57 percent of the women surveyed had experienced verbal street harassment, nearly one quarter have been touched by a stranger on the street, and one fifth reported that they have been followed by their harasser.

And among men, the survey found about 25 percent had been harassed in public, most commonly homophobic comments as well slurs about their gender identity.

Street harassment is not necessarily a crime, but it can be if it involves public indecency, groping or touching, or putting the victim in danger.

The Chicago Police Department does not track street harassment reports the way other crimes are tracked, but a spokesman said the problem is common and likely underreported.

Second, there has been another problem which deserves further attention: the onslaught of rape and death threats that have been directed at the Shoshana B. Roberts, the subject of the video, are unacceptable but sadly unsurprising.

When women are visible in online or offline spaces, they experience harassment. When women demand change, they meet violent demands for their silence.

We understand that violence exists on a spectrum that is played out on the street and online. We understand that it needs to change. We hope that you will work with us to end street harassment and to fight harassment wherever it is found.

Third, the coverage that this video has received shows how far we have come and how far we still have to go. Many outlets have used the video to have conversations about street harassment that would never have happened even five years ago. For many, street harassment is a real problem to be reported as such.

Other coverage, however, shows that sexism still shapes culture in a way that harms women. When journalists on major news networks reinforce, support, and normalize street harassment they minimize the violence and fear that women experience on the street.

- See more at: http://www.ihollaback.org/#sthash.6m7QGUUA.dpuf

One reason for that could be that people who speak out about gender inequalities run the risk of receiving threats, according to Emily May, the executive director of Hollaback!, who noted that in the wake of the organization's viral video, the subject of the video has received numerous rape and death threats online.

"When women demand change, they meet violent demands for their silence," she said in a statement. "The onslaught of rape and death threats that have been directed at the Shoshana B. Roberts, the subject of the video, are unacceptable but sadly unsurprising."

The onslaught of rape and death threats that have been directed at the Shoshana B. Roberts, the subject of the video, are unacceptable but sadly unsurprising -- See more at: http://www.ihollaback.org/#sthash.6m7QGUUA.dpuf

Despite the risks of speaking out online, Holly Kearl, the founder and executive director of the national group Stop Street Harassment believes social media has elevated the anti-street harassment movement in recent years by creating more opportunities for victims to share their experiences with the wider world.

"It's showing that it's a global issue, not just something that only happens in cities or in bad neighborhoods," she said. Kearl's organization focuses on harassment involving strangers in public, in which the victim is targeted because of his or her gender. Telling a woman to smile more, for example, is street harassment, she said.

"That includes whistles and catcalls and ranges all the way up to sexist and homophobic comments, groping, flashing, and following," she said. "It really impacts harassed peoples' lives in significant ways, especially if they experience it a lot, they might change their hobbies, routines, habits because they feel so unsafe."

Katie Davis, the site director for Hollaback! Chicago, a local branch of the advocacy organization, said she has been yelled at and followed down the street by a man she did not know near her home on Chicago Avenue.

"If a person is honking or barking, or blowing kisses, it might be easy to say 'oh, that's stupid, who cares,' or 'you're going to miss it when you get old.' But every time I get harassed my blood is boiling, and I'm distracted for the rest of the day," she said. "It hurts your self-esteem and it's really hard. You wonder, 'What did I do?' You start to feel like you're trapped."

Davis's organization collects reports of street harassment from people around the world and maps them online. Incidents reported this year in Chicago include an anonymous report that describes watching a man take a cellphone video of a woman's behind while riding an escalator at a Blue Line CTA station, and one from a woman who was at a park with her daughter in Old Town when a man on a bicycle stopped in front of her and said, "Hey, baby. I see you don't have a ring."

In the moment, many advocates say, there is no ideal way to address street harassment face to face.

"Every single instance is different and sometimes you could be in danger. So go with your gut," Davis said. "I give them a nasty look and say 'No,' and normally that kind of shuts them down."

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