Catcalling and Street Harassment: How to stay safe

Growing up I never thought being a woman would be as hard as it is, never did I think having been harassed on the street by men was something I had to worry about. During my teenage years, I started to become more aware of what I would wear when going out, my parents, especially my Dad would question “are you sure you want to wear that” “you’re going to have a lot of men looking at you” and my mum would say “your dad won’t let you out of the house in that.”

One of my most prominent experiences being harassed was when I was 17, I had caught the train to go out with two friends and my younger sister, not thinking too much of what I was wearing as my friends had dressed similarly.

We had just finished taking some photos and started walking to our next destination for dessert, I was grabbing my friend’s things, we were just in front of a Jewellery store, with three middle aged men walking by one shouted out to me “Which Ring do you want!” another walking by with his female partner followed saying “Seriously, he’ll buy you any one of those rings.” I smiled and laughed it off, as though it were some funny joke, but inside I felt uncomfortable. What man would make a comment like that towards a young girl? Is it because I’m wearing a skirt that’s too short? How would he feel if someone said that to his own daughter?

I didn’t think much of it, having been called at many times in public I figured it was normal, depending on how I dressed I was likely to get at least a long stare. I tried not to dress like that too often, I was more likely to wear jeans and some sneakers going out as I became older and spent time with friends at bars, it made me more comfortable knowing I wouldn’t get too much attention.

My thoughts shifted when I started becoming more independent, driving my own car, making my way to work, getting into my car at night and so on. Following that experience as well as many others I made sure to always be aware of my surroundings, locking my car and carrying my bag close.

Sydney, one of the safest cities in the world, so why are women not being afforded the same rights to feel as safe as men are in public spaces?

A report by the Community Council of Australia found that ‘half of women in Australia don’t feel safe walking alone at night’

Harassment is male privilege at work.

One of the most Un safest areas in Sydney . . .

Doonside

A concentrated housing commission spot with high rates of unemployment and prominent drug use, the streets of Doonside is not somewhere you want to be as a woman, especially at night.

“Being harassed for cigarettes and spare change on public transport are frequent occurrences, and the suburb also boasts high instances of domestic violence” 10 Most Dangerous Sydney Suburbs, 2020.

For women, creating a community people can trust, is key.

How do we do this?

Cat calling and street harassment is not a minor issue and “free to be” understands this.

Trialled in Melbourne “free to be” has created an online map for locating spots of danger for women. Results have been surprising and shown that women felt most unsafe when in a public space such as public transport. Rather than what would be expected like dark laneways.

UN women has discovered that between 31% and 64% of men have admitted to carrying out acts of street harassment, and those with more education and a history of violence in their childhood were most likely to.

Plan International’s Sexism in the City report has also shown, based on a survey on 500 young women that experiences of street harassment are standard.

Australian Bureau of Statistics also states 90% of women in Australia have experienced cat calling or sexually aggressive comments, and over half were still children when it first happened.

TikTok has also made contributions supporting women in other unsafe situations with the viral Uber Audio trend. Females can save the clips of one-sided conversations and pretend to be on the phone with a friend, the videos are designed to ward any potentially dangerous drivers when feeling unsafe. Examples of dialogue include “I’m tracking you. . .” “See you soon” as well as other staged conversations.

As well as other females sharing their experiences for support on the platform:

Women have also advocated on travel safety sharing their tips for when travelling alone.

Most tips include:

  • Carrying pepper spray, a pocketknife or anything that can be used as a weapon

And many more

Martha Mukaiwa shares in an article with the New York Times “I try to increase my visibility and underscore my humanity by making friends with locals. . .let them know how long I’ll be around.”

What do the men in our lives think of this . . .

Take a look at these short clips:

In Lauren Lancaster’s ABC news article, she states “street harassment has become so normalised that too often women don’t speak up about it.” Due to fears of being labelled as over reacting or worse having the blame shifted because of what we are wearing or how we are dressed. ‘we’re asking for it’ is not an excuse, and what we wear should not be an invitation.

“Women are taught from the beginning that the world is a scary place for us” Heather-Rose Cahill states in The New York Times.

Women deserve better than this, street harassment needs to change from the inevitable to the unacceptable.