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Dublin: 13 °C Tuesday 2 September, 2014

Column: Shouting ‘nice arse’ isn’t innocent, and we shouldn’t ignore it

Seemingly innocuous comments to women are part of a spectrum of harassment – and it’s time we did something about it, writes Jenny Dunne.

Jenny Dunne

Yesterday we looked at the response to the Hollaback! Dublin campaign against street harassment. Here co-director Jenny Dunne outlines the behaviour that the project aims to combat.

MY WALK HOME from the Luas station takes an extra ten minutes or so because of a particular road that I can never walk down alone again, after a group of young men followed me down it, threatening to rape me. This is street harassment.

Street harassment can be anything from verbal assault to groping or stalking. There are no statistics available for Ireland yet, but studies from other Western countries have found that 80-90 per cent of women have experienced street harassment. As nearly every woman I know has a story about being street harassed, there is no reason to believe that Ireland is an exception to the rule. Hollaback! Dublin has been established because we believe that street harassment can no longer be an accepted aspect of being a woman in this world.

The most common form of street harassment is seemingly innocuous. Hearing comments like ‘nice arse’ or being leered at while waiting for a bus. These things happen all the time. For the most part, anyone who is bothered by such statements is told to brush it off, that it’s nothing. I can’t agree with that. You shouldn’t have to wait until you’re groped or threatened with rape before you complain. If you feel harassed, you are being harassed. In the same way that living in a society where shouting homophobic slurs at someone is acceptable makes gay-bashing acceptable; allowing unwelcome lewd comments makes greater sexual violence like groping and rape more acceptable.

Street harassment is difficult to report. In the case of my story above, I never reported it to the Gardai because I had very little idea what my harassers looked like. After the first time they shouted, I kept my head down and walked as fast as I could. Street harassment is often brief, with the perpetrator disappearing into the crowd leaving you feeling powerless. That’s what street harassment is all about of course – power.

Power

No-one really thinks that shouting “Nice tits, love” at a woman walking past them on the street will charm her so much that she will turn around and fling herself at them. Street harassers are asserting their power over their target. They can call you names, grope you, threaten you and there is little you can do about it.

The Hollaback! movement is a way of reclaiming some of that power. The organisation was founded in New York in 2005 and is now operating in 62 cities and 25 countries, including in Dublin as of this week. People who have experienced street harassment can use the site to share their experiences or show their support for others who have been street harassed. Sharing your story is cathartic. It is a way of acknowledging that you are not ok with being street harassed. It is a way of documenting for the naysayers that street harassment is a problem that exists in Dublin.

Some people think that street harassment is a compliment. It’s not. Street harassment is something that is scary or threatening. The point at which something becomes scary or threatening is different for everyone. 42% of women in Ireland experience sexual assault or rape in their lifetimes. Being targeted in a sexual way, from catcalling to being followed or flashed can be extremely upsetting to women who have been sexually violated before. There is no way of knowing what a woman who is being street harassed has been through previously, and there is no way of knowing how she might feel about it.

This type of harassment is happening every day to women and LGBTQ people in Dublin. It is time to stop accepting it. Many of the stories that we have received at Hollaback! Dublin have been from teenagers. They are just starting to experience the world as women instead of girls, and already they are disappointed, intimidated and threatened by some of the men that they encounter. It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s time for Ireland to join this worldwide movement to work towards creating a culture where street harassment isn’t accepted.

Jenny Dunne is the co-director of Hollaback! Dublin, a social site designed to combat street harassment. For more information visit their website, Facebook page or follow them on Twitter @HollabackDublin.

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