A substantial crowd comprised of all genders, ethnicities, races, sexual orientations, and ages gathered today at the first City Council hearing on street harassment. Armed with suggestions on how the city can combat the problem, one expert said, "Street harassment is a form of sexual terrorism" and an activist called it a "gateway crime, creating a culture in our city that makes other forms of violence against women okay."
Convened by Council Member Julissa Ferreras, who chairs the Women’s Issues Committee, the hearing's goal was to stress the importance of joining forces in order to take action specifically in New York City. Ferreras welcomed the attendees with strong support from the council, and Council Member Margaret Chin stated that the issue was simply “unacceptable.” Charles Barron, the only male Council Member (and gubernatorial candidate) to speak at the hearing, stressed that many times the intention of such instances is simply to harass, not engage the victim.
Unlike many other cities, and countries even, there are virtually no statistics available pertaining to street harassment in New York City. Each panelist recommended three steps towards eliminating street harassment: 1) A citywide study, focusing on the impact of street harassment and girls; 2) a citywide public information campaign that educates all genders and ages that harassment is unacceptable is the second point of action proposed; and 3) establishing “harassment-free zones” in schools in order to raise awareness and support of the movement.
According to statistics provided by Holly Kearl, a national street harassment expert, 90% of surveyed women have experienced some form of harassment by the age of 19 and 1 in 4 by the age of 12. 75% of women have been followed. Kearl appealed to the council, “This is not okay…Street harassment is a form of sexual terrorism.” Also on Kearl’s panel was Tracy Hobson, the executive director of the Center for Anti-Violence Education. “Street harassment is often the first sexual experience for young women,” Hobson told the committee. She also stated that when asked, young women described their feelings at the time of the incidents as “afraid, sad, confused, and dirty.”
Emily May is the executive director of Hollaback!, an organization that is working to end street harassment internationally by allowing women to post and share their stories. May repeatedly emphasized the common misconception that street harassment is “the price women pay for living in New York City. But we’re not buying it. Taxes are the price we pay for living in this city.” May provided the audience with this chuckle, but her message remained extremely sincere. “Street harassment is poised to be the next big women’s issue of this decade…It is a gateway crime, creating a culture in our city that makes other forms of violence against women okay.”
May's statistical findings were equally jarring. Of 150 young women whom she spoke with at Barnard, 100% of them had experienced street harassment. Along with the rest of the speakers, May encouraged women to speak out. Hollaback is poised to launch an iPhone and Droid App that will allow victims to post experiences in real time, and hopefully, move closer to ending street harassment all together.