By K.C. Wagner and Emily May
Thursday, June 23, 2011
The community around fighting street harassment is growing stronger and has pointed to its pervasiveness. K.C. Wagner and Emily May say more research is needed to lay the groundwork necessary to end this type of harassment.
However, the leaders of the movement to end street harassment face a challenge similar to the early days of the workplace harassment movement: little data.
Activists working to end street harassment have responded by collecting crowd-sourced data. With the more than 2,000 stories collected and mapped on ihollaback.org through Hollaback!'s iPhone and Droid applications, we know that no one is alone in his or her experiences. Street harassment impacts young women in particular, with factors like race and sexuality tending to increase the frequency and severity of the harassment. A study conducted through an online survey tool by Holly Kearl, published in her 2010 book "Stop Street Harassment," indicates that between 80-100 percent of women have been harassed at some point during their lives.
But knowing that crowd-sourced data is self-selecting and cannot paint a broader, more complete picture, street harassment activists are asking for more.
In October 2010, over 100 activists crowded into a standing-room-only city council room at New York City's first ever hearing on street harassment, hosted by Councilmember Julissa Ferrarras, and sounded a call for more research.
During the hearing, advocates called for a study that would produce the data needed to address street harassment in New York City. The study would look at the long-term impact of street harassment and the effectiveness of both formal and informal solutions in making people feel safer in their communities.
It would be the first of its kind at a time when governments internationally are searching for solutions. In this ever-tightening budget year, a study on street harassment is a relatively inexpensive method for New York City to lead the way. More important, such research provides an opportunity to provide concrete solutions to a deep-seated social issue.
Street harassment activists know they have many more battles ahead. But research is a critical early step as it allows us to move this issue from an individual to a collective experience. If we wait, we fear that yet another generation will have to endure the same harassing experiences.
Now is the time for City Council to take this small first step toward a day when street harassment is taken as seriously as workplace sexist behavior.
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K.C. Wagner is the director of workplace issues at Cornell University-ILR School. She testified as an expert witness for the plaintiff in the U.N. case of Claxton v Gomez and was the counseling director at Working Women's Institute from 1980-86. Emily May is the executive director of Hollaback!, a nonprofit dedicated to ending street harassment.
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