Street Harassment: A Catcall Too Far

Libby Mayfield Stop Street Harassment

I’m tired of street harassment, so I’m bottling my nerves and doing something. At last.

I’m tired of walking down a street and feeling unsafe. No, perhaps ‘tired’ isn’t the word for it. I’m exasperated, infuriated, exhausted. Like an overused shoelace my tolerance has been worn threadbare with how drained I feel from being objectified in public. If I say nothing, my nerves are shaken like a builder on a pneumatic drill. If I say something, I’m scared of what reaction I’ll receive.

All the time, people all over the world are sexually harassed in public, mostly in the form of catcalling. As a young woman in England, it’s become such an everyday thing for me to be yelled at on the street, on public transport or in a shopping center that I’m used to it.

Every so often I realise that and I’m taken aback. I’m used to it. Harassment is so commonplace that I don’t even notice it. It’s an awful, degrading, terrifying thing, and I’m used to it. What does that say?

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been putting up with it since before I hit puberty. Perhaps it’s because no one speaks about how scary it is. Perhaps it’s because friends and family alike have told me I should take it as a “compliment”.

In 2014, Stop Street Harassment conducted a survey in America and found that 65% of women had experienced street harassment.

It’s not okay, it’s not something that should happen every day and it’s not something anyone should have to deal with.

And I know it feels like nothing when you say it out loud, and I know it feels pathetic to explain why a few yelled words can amount to you feeling terrified, but we’ve got to start reporting this when it happens.

Online you’ll find threads where vulnerable people discuss how best to respond to intimidation and harassment on the street. Do you walk away and let them get away with with it? Do you retaliate? These are people who are happy to knowingly scare victims in public, what would they do if you angered them?

I’m tired of it, so I’m taking a middle ground stance. Earlier this week, whilst walking through a city I didn’t know too well, a dozen or more men yelled at me in the space of half an hour – I was wearing thick tights, a jumper and a coat. I don’t know what they were yelling at. I stopped everyone who tried to intimidate me, and asked them to repeat what they said, then carried on walking.

A blue car pulls up beside me. I assume they’re parking to go a shop, but the passenger window rolls down and a man in the driver’s seat yells “oi, sexy!” at me. I walk past, he drives off. He pulls up again 50 metres down the road at a mini island and I lag behind, get my phone out and photograph his registration. He realises what I’m doing, yells at me, incoherently, loudly, aggressively. He drives up and down the street a few times past me. Then I realise what a bad area I’m in and I panic. I’ve pissed off someone who’s happy to intimidate me and there’s no way I can defend myself if he gets angry.

I’m heading to the train station but I’ve no idea what to do with this information. I’m not the toughest cookie but I don’t want anyone else to have to run into this man in the blue car. I speak to customer services and start crying as I explain what happened. I wonder what the two men there think of me crying over, what, a few words a stranger said to me? But it’s not that. This isn’t me crying over one thing. I’m crying because it’s taken me so long to speak out against continuous and normalised harassment.

Thankfully, the men at customer services were helpful and knew who to contact better than I did. I thought it would be a long and complicated process, but I spent more time on the phone being directed to the right department than I did explaining what happened.

I know it feels embarrassing to explain to an official in an almost clinical manner how someone could scare you like that. Repeating what was said and how it was said is bizarre and weird. But do it.

Report street harassment because of this: it might not scare the hell out of you now, but would it have scared you when you were 13 and wanted someone there to stick up for you?

If you want more information on street harassment, or how it affects people across the world, Stop Street Harassment have a wealth of information.

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