The implications of Street Harassment on Personal Safety for Women

Street Harassment has a direct effect on reducing the personal safety of women and increasing their risk of sexual assault. The reasons for this is as follows:

1. Effect on Women as Targets of Harassment

A. Self-Worth – A major element to personal safety is directly related to the potential Target’s feeling of confidence and self-worth. When women’s feeling of self-worth are lowered by Street Harassment, they are at greater risk of being victimized

B. Intuition – Listening to your intuition is considered an extremely important aspect of personal safety. Intuition has a number of names; spider sense, threat alarm, sixth sense, inner voice, etc. Regardless of the name, responding to the warning of intuition is designed to warn people of impending danger. Upon receiving the warning, the person is supposed to either “flee” or “fight”. The problem is that the experience of numerous incidents of Street Harassment has conditioned women to ignore their intuition.

It is neither practical nor advisable to “flee” from or “fight” every instance of Street Harassment. Therefore, women learn to silence their intuition and endure the harassment. As a result, when faced with a real threat to personal safety, a woman may ignore her intuition believing that she is “merely” being harassed. This decreased ability to distinguish between Street Harassment and the prelude to an assault makes women greater risk of being victimized.

C. Vocal Assertiveness – The use of a laud and powerful voice to ward off an attacker is another cornerstone of personal safety. Street Harassment conditions women to be silent. Due to the implicit threat of violence that comes with Street Harassment, women learn to ignore the behavior and not respond. They are afraid that if they respond with vocal indignation, they will escalate the situation into violence. Being conditioned to be silent to abuse puts women at greater risk of being victimized.

D. Situational Awareness - Being aware of one’s surroundings is thought to be the most effective means of personal safety. Awareness is a deterrent to assault. But the existence of Street harassment makes situational awareness ineffective. It is not possible to use awareness to avoid Street Harassment. Street Harassment occurs regardless of if the woman is “aware” or not. In fact, a “conditioned” defense to Street Harassment is the use of headsets to not hear comments, looking down to avoid eye contact, and other techniques to appear oblivious to Street Harassers in hopes of not catching their attention. These factors put women greater risk of being victimized.

E. Avoidance – Avoiding potentially dangerous situations is the complement to awareness. But it is impossible to avoid Street Harassment. Street Harassment by definition occurs in public places where women want and have a right to be. Constant exposure to Street Harassment “conditions” women to believe that they are unable to avoid abuse. Therefore, avoidance as a concept of personal safety loses its value. This loss of confidence in avoidance puts woman at greater risk of being victimized.

F. Personal Space – The practice of maintaining a safety perimeter of no less than five feet is another important concept of personal safety. The concept is that by keeping strangers from bring in close proximity; a woman will have more time to respond to an attack. Street Harassment makes a mockery of this practice. Street Harassers are constantly breaking into this safety circle in order to get close to their Target. As a result of women’s inability to regularly maintain a safety circle and keep abusers at a distance, they are at greater risk of being victimized.

G. Conditioning – All of the preceding factors mentioned and more have the effect of lessening the women’s confidence in and ability to apply the concepts of personal safety. Because being subjected to Street Harassment begins in for women in adolescence, women are in effect being operant conditioned over time to be targets of abuse. This conditioning makes women at greater risk of being victimized.