Maryland should lead the nation on street harassment laws
By Natalie Draisin November 7
“Shake that a–, girl!” he yelled at me from his pickup truck.
That’s right, from his pickup truck. We weren’t at a strip club, and I wasn’t putting on a street corner show. I was simply walking from one of my graduate school campuses to another in Baltimore.
My friend and I make this trek almost daily, and we always walk together because the incessant harassment makes us feel too unsafe to walk alone. During my six years in Baltimore and two in the District, I have cringed at countless unwanted remarks like this.
Street harassment is ubiquitous, and it probably will get worse. I think about a group of middle school boys who made sexual comments as I walked by, who probably learned the behavior from the elderly man down the street. Boys learn from men as they make inappropriate remarks, and girls will keep learning from women to absorb them.
Street harassment has sadly become a societal norm.
As women become increasingly fed up with the harassment, we’ve published blog posts and videos to raise awareness and air our grievances. Recently, an organization dedicated to ending this behavior videotaped the catcalls one woman received while walking in New York City. The video, “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” was quickly followed by the parody “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Man.”
There have been a lot of courageous campaigns to help empower women to fight the harassment, such as Stop Telling Women to Smile and Stop Street Harassment, but they won’t suffice. My public health studies have taught me that behavioral interventions aren’t enough. We need laws, too.
Some women are advocating for an enforceable solution, such as an anti-street-harassment law. In a New York Times op-ed, Laura Beth Nielsen suggested a law that would prohibit “uninvited harassing speech or actions targeted toward individuals in public spaces on the basis of sex or sexual orientation when done with the intent to intimidate.” Citing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that people can demand equality and freedom from sexual harassment at work, Nielsen said that we should have the right to be free of harassment on the streets, too.
Such a law would not protect just women. It would protect everyone. And Maryland, with its rich history on civil rights issues, including a recent law that protects residents from discrimination based on gender identity, is the right place to start.
However, it’s up to women to drive this fight. Men don’t experience the same degree of harassment on a regular basis, and they may not be aware of the prevalence and severity of the issue. That’s okay. We’re mustering the courage to raise awareness, and now we just have to demand that action be taken in the form of an enforceable law.
To all the women as frustrated with street harassment as I am, let’s stop complaining and start doing something. Behavior change won’t suffice; we need laws to help protect our human right to be free of harassment. Let’s push Maryland to end street harassment.
The writer is a student at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Carey School of Business.