Runner Anna Aldridge is so sick and tired of getting catcalled she's started a petition to make street harassment illegal. Making those kissy noises at women could someday get you a hefty fine. But would making it illegal really stop the problem?
Aldrige had a TV camera crew follow her run through the streets to capture the unwanted attention. This time it was limited to a few honks -- but Aldridge says it can be much worse at times. Perhaps the usual suspects saw the cameras and decided to contain their worst impulses for once.
Intuitively making street harassment a crime sure feels like a great idea. Wouldn't we love to see guys get a ticket on the spot for being so gross! And if sexual harassment in the workplace is against the law, shouldn't street harassment be illegal, too?
But when I really think about it I'm not so sure.
Aldrige's petition suggests making it a violation, like running a red light (as opposed to something you could get sued for like workplace sexual harassment, or serve jail time like rape). That seems appropriate for the severity of the offense, but I don't think tickets and fines will be a strong enough deterrent. And how would you prove it? Women have started carrying body cameras, so that's one way to produce evidence, but that places the burden on us. Who gets to decide what's actual sexual street harassment and what's merely an annoyance? How much money would we be willing to spend on monitoring and enforcing it?
Here's what I see happening: Women will end up doing extra work making sure cases are adequately enforced and prosecuted. And guys who catcall will treat the law the way drivers treat that "no honking" sign on my block.
More from The Stir: Undercover Moms Trick Sons Into Catcalling Them & Then Let Them Have It
Rachel Dougherty, program assistant for the advocacy organization Hollaback!, explained to the Christian Science Monitor in an email why her organization doesn't agree that criminalizing street harassment is a good solution.
Hollaback! does not advocate for increasing the criminalization of street harassment, knowing that the criminal justice system disproportionately targets low income communities and communities of color ... Our aim is to work with legislators on community based efforts and solutions.
Instead they focus on things like education programs in middle and high schools, doing training and workshops on bystander intervention.
But what could really turn the tide is getting men on board. We know that just like rape, street harassment is committed by a small minority of men. We also know that the kinds of men who catcall women are less likely to give a crap what we tell them to do -- but more likely to respond to pressure from other men. They're just sexist that way, you know?
Holly Kearl, founder of Stop Street Harassment, supports the idea of criminalizing. But she also says getting men on board is key. She told the Christian Science Monitor, "We need programs educating young men on issues of respect and consent, we need social shaming of harassers, and we need men to model respectful behavior to their friends and family members."
I think that's why I loved this video of men reacting to seeing their girlfriends get harassed on the street. What an eye-opener! Give men a real stake in the game and they might care more about getting involved when they see someone making kissy sounds at someone else's girlfriend, mother, or sister.
But in case you like Aldridge's idea, here's her petition to outlaw street harassment in Austin. Who knows, it could catch on there and spread to other cities. At the least, the petition is another way to raise awareness of the problem and keep the conversation going about how to fight it.
Image via USA Today