How To Handle Catcalling Amid Social Distancing

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Living in a global pandemic puts us in a situation where we need to distance ourselves even with our loved ones. That’s why amid this, having our boundaries crossed and experiencing sexual harassment when we’re out is even more shocking. Now, the automatic response of blending in the crowd is no longer an option to get away from a harasser.

Leaving our homes is considerable risk with our current situation, but women face twice the danger of going out. A quick grocery run can risk you getting catcalled by those who have no regard for your boundaries. And although it’s not physical harassment, this seemingly harmless act has an invisible effect that takes a toll on women. 

“Women may expect low-level harassment,” says Isis H. Settles, Ph.D., associate professor in psychology at Michigan State University (MSU).  “A lifetime of being sexually harassed leads women to develop coping mechanisms that downplay the distress.”

The Current Situation

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Plan International UK conducted a study on 1,000 women aged 14 to 21 regarding sexual harassment during the lockdown. They found that 20% had suffered street harassment since the implementation of social distancing measures.  

Meanwhile, 28% of women feel less safe outside under lockdown. 2 in 5 or 40% feel unsafe walking alone in public. Among these women who feel less secure:

  • 52% said there were fewer people around to help them if something happened
  • 43% felt fewer places are available to hide and go to if they needed to get away from someone
  • 31% thought that the police have other essential priorities

What You Can Do

It is heartbreaking and upsetting that women have to go through this as if it’s a regular thing. However, we have little choice but to prepare ourselves for such things happening. When faced with a catcaller, here are some ways to respond while keeping your safety. 

Trust Your Instincts

Assess the situation carefully. There is no perfect response to catcalling and harassment. When placed in that situation, listen to what your gut is telling you. Some studies show that responding can reduce further trauma to the victim. Make sure to make a calculated response if you decide to do it. 

Set The Boundary

Look them in the eye and denounce what they’re doing. You can tell them off or ask them why they are doing what they’re doing. As much as you can, do it with a loud and clear voice.

The harasser would either respond to you by arguing or dismiss you because calling them out made them uncomfortable. Don’t give them any more attention to stopping the situation from escalating. After saying your line, keep it moving to a safer place.

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Engage Bystanders

If you see a bystander, approach them carefully from a safe distance and tell them what’s going on. Identify the catcaller and what they said or did. You can ask them to pretend that they are your friend. If a harasser sees that you’re with someone, chances are they will back off. Although not all will be willing to go to lengths to help, most will still do, one way or another. 

Take A Picture Or Video Of The Harasser

If you’re in a situation where you feel safe enough to take out your phone, do it. You can use the photo or video clip as strong evidence in reporting the incident. There have been instances when harassers back off when victims take a video of them. Turning on the lens onto a harasser has the potential to make them feel ashamed and embarrassed. 

Make A Scene And Make Them Feel Uncomfortable

Make a fuss and go over the top and yell that someone is attacking you. You can also start singing out of nowhere or do something that would appear unusual and ridiculous. You will catch the attention of bystanders and authorities even if there are a few on the streets. You can also take out your phone and call the police or someone you know right on their faces.

Flipping the script on them and making them feel uncomfortable can scare the harasser off.

Don’t Engage Or Ignore It

Most often, the go-to response is ignoring the harassment, especially if there are chances of the situation escalating. This response is not wrong and can help save you from further danger. Catcallers and harassers enjoy the attention that you give them, so not acknowledging their presence takes away that power.

Catcalling And Harassment Is Never Right

Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect response to harassment, and it is never your fault. With all the things currently happening in the world, we must do everything that we can to protect ourselves.