https://www.citylab.com/crime/2017/03/street-harassment-is-a-public-health-problem-the-case-of-mexico-city/520185/Street Harassment Is a Public Health Problem
Women who have been harassed may feel less trust in their community, with potential long-term impacts on mental health and well-being.
Lauren Ferreira Cardoso
March 20, 2017
“I actually don’t remember when I was first harassed on the street, but I do remember when I first experienced it as an abusive act: I was an adolescent traveling with my mom in a crowded underground wagon, where men could easily touch women without anyone noticing and with little possibility to prevent it.
This was the experience of Lucía Vázquez, a researcher in Mexico City, Mexico. Unfortunately, her story is not unique.
According to a multi-country poll by YouGov, Mexico City ranks first among 16 international cities surveyed for physical and verbal harassment on public transportation. Street harassment, a form of gender-based violence against women, can include any act or comment perpetrated in a public space that is unwanted and threatening, and is motivated by a person’s perceived sex or gender.
Violence against women in public spaces is not exclusive to Mexico City, of course. Experiences of street harassment—from being whistled at to being touched without consent—are reported each day on crowd-sourced websites like Hollaback and Safecity in dozens of other locations from New York and New Delhi, to Lawrence, Kansas and Lubbock, Texas.
There is still much to be learned about how harassment and feeling unsafe in public spaces affects the well-being of women and girls—a topic I focus on in my doctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice—but the global scale of these experiences is concerning. Studies documenting the prevalence of street harassment in more than 35 countries show it could have widespread health effects across the globe.
Street harassment in Mexico City
One of the latest studies on this issue aimed to understand the extent of street harassment and its impacts on women, girls and communities in Mexico City. All of the women in this study had previously screened positive for intimate partner violence, a prerequisite for inclusion in the parent study.
Paola Abril Campos, a doctoral student at the Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is a native of Mexico City. She said in an interview for this article:
“Growing up, I learned to fake a phone call to my parents to feel safer and avoid harassment. I learned to wear not the clothes I wanted, but the clothes that made me feel ‘safe.’ I learned to take quick detours during my daily commute. And I learned to put up with the impotence I felt when harassed.”
Her experiences motivated her to conduct a study on street harassment that was published in January in Salud Pública de México, a journal published by Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health.
In this study, Campos and colleagues surveyed 952 women who were seeking health care in Mexico City’s community health clinics. More than 60 percent of the women, 62.8 percent, reported experiencing at least one form of street harassment in the past month alone. For one in four women, 26.8 percent, the abuse was physical.
The study found that the harassment, or fear of harassment, had negative impacts on the daily routines of these women. Nearly 70 percent reported some type of disruptions in their mobility, including missing, being late to or having to change jobs or schools. And yet, Campos said, “The costs and consequences of street harassment to women’s lives have remained invisible.”
The study also found that street harassment may diminish women’s sense of connectedness and trust in their community. Social isolation from one’s community can have long-term implications for well-being and can lead to chronic disease and poor mental health. Therefore, street harassment may contribute to these other public health concerns.
For the women in this study who were also victims of intimate partner violence, violence is a threat in both public and private. Jhumka Gupta, a global and community health professor at George Mason University and senior author of the study, stated: “Comprehensive interventions are needed to ensure women and girls’ safety both in public settings and in private spaces.”
There is some political will to address the issue in Mexico City. In conjunction with local authorities, UN Women has launched the program “Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces for Women and Girls,” which is promoting women’s safety through, among other mechanisms, providing women-only buses throughout the city.
The city’s mayor, Miguel Ángel Mancera Espinosa, is also supporting an initiative that distributes whistles to women that they can use when someone harasses them. The idea is to “break the silence” and bring attention to harassers.
Street harassment is a common problem in the United States too. A recent nationally representative survey found that 65 percent of U.S. women have faced street harassment at some point in their lifetimes. These numbers may be rising.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that there has been a post-election uptick of harassment and intimidation of many marginalized groups, including women. However, in February a new bill aimed at preventing street harassment in Washington, D.C. was introduced to its city council. It seeks to “eradicate street harassment in the District of Columbia through education, awareness, data collection and culture change.” The bill is broad and inclusive in its definition of street harassment and comprehensive in its approach. Will other cities follow its lead?
The following incidents have happened to me, someone who I personally know or relayed to me directly by a witness to these occurrences:
1) One late morning I was driving westbound on 175 West, also known as Waterloo Road towards Columbia, Maryland (USA). There weren’t many cars in the direction I was going in the 4 car lane. I had the right away when suddenly, a dark-skinned male who appeared to be form the City of Baltimore did not yield and intentionally made a left to what became a u turn from the eastbound direction. He intentionally drove destructively as he literally stopped in the middle of the road and stared at me like he was going to pull a weapon. I had to wait until he would drive and he had the AUDACITY to roll his eyes at me though I had the right of way and he was the one that nearly caused an accident.
2) Someone I know stated that she witnessed two covered Muslim women at a grocery store parking lot going to their cars in NW, Washington, D.C. (USA). A group of black American females came out of nowhere and approached them, yelled at them then accosted them. She stated that the black females were attempting to snatch the Muslim women’s hijabs off. The person I know who witnessed it said she stopped and noticed another woman (white) who was already dialing the police on her cell phone. Both waited until the police arrived to be sure that they could be listed as witnesses.
3) A college student who is a Sunni Muslim Black American young woman worked as a cashier at the Weiss grocer located at 9250 Washington Blvd N, Laurel, MD 20723 (USA). A black “Christian” female began yelling at the young Muslim cashier noting that the employee did not have an Arabic first name (for some reason she assumed in order to be a Sunni Muslim one must be a foreign national and an Arab). The young lady attempted to be patient and explained that she converted to Islam. The black female “Christian” customer berated her (total stranger) stating “If I was your mother I wouldn’t tolerate none of that.” The woman was a total stranger, held up the line and apparently does not have an iota of civility or respect for boundaries with her blind hatred.
4) At the East Columbia Public Library, 6600 Cradlerock Way, Columbia, Maryland a “religious group” (Black “Christians”) are given permission multiple spring seasons to proselytize in front of the public library (local government, publicly funded building) complaints filed. One obese woman literally blocked my entrance to the library and tried to “grill” me in the face. She is confronted by police becomes belligerent and argues at the officer and is physically removed from the property.
5) Attended an extended family member’s funeral at a First Baptist Church in Prince George’s County, Maryland. I was dressed in hijab and an abaya which I felt most comfortable in at the time in a house of worship. One of my cousins sitting to my right was grieving heavily so I tried to comfort her as it was her dad’s death we were mourning. We were in a few rows back with other family. The Baptist preacher stared at me and interrupted whatever his ‘sermon’ was and said to me “I see we have someone who hasn’t accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal savior.” Even the Christian relations were offended by his inappropriateness during their time of mourning and vulnerability. Everyone was silent and waited for the “preacher” to resume the funeral service.
6) One day I was walking to university classes from the north to south campus buildings and there were some black male university students hanging outside. It was apparent I was Muslim as I was in hijab and one of the black males audibly said “..if she wasn’t Muslim I would f*#@ her”: not I would ask her out, court her, find out about her, or talk to her as a human being but rather one way or another (sexual assault) he would have his way with me. I pretended like I didn’t hear what was said and kept walking quickly, looking straight ahead.
7) One day while driving to work in Washington, D.C., I was at a red light on New York Avenue, right before you get to the police station or academy on the right about two blocks before you can turn left onto H Street, NW, Washington, D.C. A dark-skinned black male emerged from the plexi-glass seating for the metro bus and started making masturbating gestures and thrusting. There was a white male driver in front of me with a luxury car and as soon as the light turned we drove as fast as we could to pass what was happening on the sidewalk.
8) On a bright and sunny mid-afternoon, I was returning to my car and making a purchase at the Target located 3343 Corridor Marketplace, Laurel, MD 20724 (Maryland City). As I was crossing from the store entrance walking towards the parking lot two black “Christian” females began laughing and gossiping about me. One of them stated, “..that’s why I don’t like them, they have flat butts.” The other one responded, “nah uh, no she don’t.” I thought it was the strangest, lesbian-type of public conversation to have about a covered Sunni Muslim woman. I walked a bit quicker to get to my car.
9) One day I was in a government office in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. In the parking lot I ended up speaking with another Sunni Muslim Black American woman. I told her the observations and experiences I have had with Black “Christians” and that I did not understand why total strangers were so evil. She informed me that although she doesn’t wear hijab now, when she did, she and her brother were teased relentlessly by Black “Christians.” She even mentioned that she had a brother named Rashad and all the Black “Christians” would refer to her as “Ra-sh*@#.” The woman stopped wearing hijab primarily due to the discrimination both in social contexts with Black “Christians” and workplace discrimination because of her faith.
10) One early morning I was doing laundry at the laundromat located at 125 Bowie Rd, Laurel, MD 20707 on a Saturday. It was approximately a little after 6:00 a.m. and I was sorting clothes. I hear someone come from behind me (never made their appearance known) asking when did I arrive to the laundromat. No one said excuse me or appeared in front of me to indicate that he or she was addressing me. Second, it’s no one’s business, including a total stranger has the right to know my whereabouts. The Asian male manager and one employee was working in the laundromat so if she wanted to know when it opened she could have addressed an appropriate question to them. But it was apparent that she felt she had the right to question and know my business though she, like all of the incidents I describe was a total stranger.
Anyway, the woman put her hand on me and tried to swing/push me around and stated with a grimace, “I’m trying to ask you a question.” I then smacked her hand off of me and stated, “You do not put your hands on a total stranger.” Once again, the dark-skinned uncivilized black female kept talking, she responded “if you put your hands on ME again we will have a problem.” Yes, the woman who accosted me is now upset that I responded in like kind. In an even louder tone I stated “you touched me first.” She knew she couldn’t say anything further because there were cameras, witnesses and employees who saw the whole incident unfold. I continued, “..obviously I do not want to talk to you.” I informed that she was a “trouble-making n#@!r.” She turned quiet and the manager called the plaza security guard to which she said nothing further and stayed away from me the rest of the time I was doing my laundry. Once again TOTAL STRANGER.
Anti-Street Harassment Rally in New York:
April 08, 2017. For Full Announcement please see: