There’s almost nothing that’ll ruin your morning faster than a disgusting kissy noise, emanating from the face of some idiot trailing you down the block. Or a “flattering” remark about a body part you possess, which quickly turns into the outraged yelling of “BITCH! LESBIAN!” when you don’t respond in quite the way he wanted. And those are the mildest forms of street harassment, which can quickly turn less mild and more criminal. In a 2007 online survey about subway harassment by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s office, about 1,800 people responded, most of them women. Two-thirds said they’d been sexually harassed, and one-third said they had been sexually assaulted.
So what can we do, besides staying home forever, or taking the time to punch each harasser individually in the face, which would take a huge chunk out of our day and probably chap our knuckles? Brooklyn Movement Center, a community organizing group based in Bed-Stuy, is at work on a handy chart, cataloging not just the different types of street harassment, but what you can do about them.
Brooklyn MC previously took part in International Street Harassment Week back in April to talk about the issue; the group got some attention at the time for writing anti-harassment messages in chalk in Fulton Park, a hotspot in Bed-Stuy for that type of shitty behavior.
On July 20, the organization released the first draft of its Street Harassment Spectrum on its website. It charts harassment on an “intensity score” of 1 to 10, from non-aggressive verbal communication at one end (“Hey beautiful”) to groping at the other. For each type of harassment–making gross sounds, staring, walking too close, non-sexual touching, following, masturbating openly like a perverted chimp with no boundaries–they suggest why the harasser might feel entitled to do such a thing, as well as potential responses from the harrassee.
In the case of non-sexual touching, for example, they have a number of suggested responses: “That’s not yours,” Or “Don’t touch me,” followed with a hearty round of curse words. Public shaming sometimes also works, if the harasser still possesses the capacity to feel shame, or a dose of pepper spray (which, we should note, is not legal to carry in New York if you’re a teenager or a felon). There’s also the app by Hollaback, another street harassment group, which lets you photograph the harasser and report the incident to an online community.
Brooklyn MC still wants more input from women in Bed-Stuy who experience street harassment, to make the chart more comprehensive and the responses better. (And before someone in the comments section goes there: yes, most of the research about this type of harassment indicates it primarily affects women and LGBTQ people).
As it is, the spectrum is already a helpful resource; I can see it being especially useful for younger women and girls, who haven’t yet had the chance to develop effective responses to sexual harassment through years and years and years of daily practice. Sadly, they’ll have plenty of chances to learn.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 1, 2013