Woman Harassed In NYC Highlights The Growing Problem Of Street Harassment

A woman documents over 100 incidences of street harassment in just one day on the streets of New York City to raise awareness about the type of sexual harassment that women in the United States have to deal with every day.

As part of a public service announcement for the non-profit organization Hollaback!, a hidden video camera shows us the experience of one woman harassed in NYC as men cat call, make uninvited comments, and encroach on her personal space as she walks down the street. The volunteer, Shoshana Roberts, was harassed over 100 times in just one day.

Street harassment has been a growing problem for women everywhere, and organizations like Hollaback! are trying to raise awareness and make the streets and public places safe for women again. One of the big hurdles for feminists who have been trying to fight street harassment is that a lot of people, mostly men, claim that the problem is not as bad as activists say, that in the United States seeing a woman harassed in such a fashion is a rare occurrence, or even that street harassment only occurs when women are dressed in a certain way which they say suggests that she is looking for the attention (where have we heard that one before?). This project aimed to set the record straight.

Shoshana Roberts walked for 10 hours down the streets of various parts of New York wearing a regular pair of jeans and a plain t-shirt while her partner, Rob Bliss, walked in front of her with a camera concealed in his backpack. What they documented was a series of various types of street harassment ranging from unwanted “compliments” to demands for her to be grateful to even being followed for several minutes as she clearly grows more and more uncomfortable, all without any interaction from Roberts whatsoever.

Roberts’ experiences of being harassed in NYC are not unique; in fact, they represent what women deal with every single day. So what exactly is street harassment? StopStreetHarassment.org defines street harassment as “any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender or sexual orientation or gender expression. In countries like India and Bangladesh, it’s termed ‘eve teasing,’ and in countries like Egypt, it’s called ‘public sexual harassment.'”

A good rule of thumb, say most activists, is that if you are not involved with a woman and she has not clearly asked for your opinion on her body or physical appearance, then keep your opinions to yourself. But street harassment is more than just the words that are used: whistles, grunts, and other such behavior are also considered harassment. One key feature that is often experienced by women who are harassed is the idea that the men are somehow entitled to a response, and that the woman is obligated to be grateful to the man for his unwanted attention. Non-verbal communication such as following someone, encroaching on their personal space, or making some one feel cornered are also common aspects of street harassment.

Organizers for the documentary have been surprised by how quickly the film went viral. In an official statement on the Hollaback! website, they spoke of the impact this is having to spite the numerous death threats that Shoshana Roberts has received after doing it.

“When the street harassment video was launched earlier this week, we hoped that it would make an impact but never imagined that it would be viewed more than 15,000,000 times in the first three days. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Many women feel a little less alone…”

Activists want to drive home the point that street harassment should not be a part of everyday life for women and by raising awareness on this issue everyone can work together to make sure that street harassment becomes a thing of the past.