I remember the first time I dealt with two stalkers in the streets. I was 14 years old, and I was a timid kid then. They followed me and almost caught my arm when they whistled and howled. The good thing is that I was nearing a corner restaurant where many people were going out of dinner, so I immediately went inside without thinking. I had to call my parents to pick me up because I didn’t want to get out of there anymore. The whole family came to the rescue, as they were so worried about me. According to Joe Davis, Ph.D, “Stalking behavior, historically characterized as romantic, obsessive advances has recently been identified as psychopathological by both the forensic mental health, law enforcement and legal communities.”
Just last year, I was with my 13-year-old girl walking the streets of Jersey to buy something in the food market. Two men whistled when we walked past them and then quickly walked behind us. I held my daughter’s arm and signaled her to walk slowly. The two men walked past us, and I was a little relieved. But when we turned on the next corner, they were there again, and one of them whispered to my daughter, “Come with us.” My instinct told me to pick up my phone and dial 911, at the same time warning the men to leave. They did – with a sly grin.
A recent study done by a group of anti-street harassment individuals revealed that about 77% of women in the U.S. under 40 years old reported having been followed and harassed in the streets. Around 5-% claimed to have been caressed or arrested by men passing them.
Harassment includes verbal as well as non-verbal harassment and exposure. A few months after the men followed us while on the streets, a group of men riding a car followed us while we were strolling and then they took pictures of us, telling us, “Now, you’ll be with us even when we go home.” Then they’d laugh like nothing’s happened. Every time this happens to our other family members or us, I talk to my family and their friends about harassment and how to tackle the issue. Here in the United States, 80 to 98 of women claim to have been harassed in the streets, most of them experiencing it before they even reach 17.
Often, we hear many stories related to violence against women, yet street harassment as a component of violence is not taken very seriously. Unlike what we believe in, events that start from unpleasant verbal exchanges and end in violence happen regularly, and other similar reported events that have not been referred to as street harassment happen in every city in the United States. An example of this is a teenage girl found in Florida who was grabbed and forced into a man’s vehicle, raped, and thrown out of the car. News about it read, “Teenage girl kidnapped.” However, it wasn’t stressed that before that she had refused to agree with the man’s request to have sex as he followed her walking the street.
A lot of murders begun this way, and it has been suggested that one should immediately call the police when street harassment occurs. However, many, even women, still think of street harassment as a form of flattery, when in fact is a negative behavior that allows tolerance for gender-based violence. Currently, one in every five women is raped, one in three is living with a violent partner, and three die every day in the hands of their male partners. These are such alarming data.
Effects Of Harassment In Women
Conscious or not, women have integrated this information into their everyday lives in some ways, some of which are being over-cautious and being anxious. These undeniably take a toll on their mental and emotional health. Researchers from the University of Washington investigated the increasing effects of unwanted sexual advances, such as street harassment. They particularly delved into the relationship between harassment, depression, objectification, and shame. Their conclusion: Most women who experienced trauma, in the long run, develop depressing health outcomes, including posttraumatic stress disorder, fatigue, and depression. According to Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D, “It’s not just a woman’s problem. Women continue to be the primary victims of sexual harassment, and they are carrying the burden of suffering. Until males own their responsibility in the problem, it’s going to be really tough to get a big movement in addressing it.”
If you have a teenager right now, you can be almost certain that she, too, is not spared from experiencing street harassment and other forms of sexual advances. If not informed well, she might even mistake street harassment as somewhat flattering, which is why it is crucially vital for girls to learn the what, why, and how of harassment. They need to understand that it is not required of them to be nice to harassers who attempt to flatter them and to people they do not know.
Parents must talk elaborately to their children about safety and being safe in the streets without making it sound so scary, as it might instill fear in them instead of vigilance. “Can parents continue to guide and influence their children through the teen years? Of course. But it takes attention and effort,” says Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. There must be a sufficient amount of awareness on the effects of harassment and what to do to prevent it. Let us protect our girls before they become teenagers, and our teenagers so that they become confident, well-informed, and competent women who can fight violence.