How Trivialising Street Harassment Fuels Violence Against Women

By Sara Belhay

In what is often dismissed and trivialised, misogynistic street harassment profoundly impacts how women go about their day to day lives. In this post, Sara Belhay examines how by dismissing the issue, we as a society are allowing rape culture to perpetuate.


Credit: Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, ‘Stop Telling Women To Smile’


Having encountered street harassment more times than I care to remember, I often adopt various strategies such as ‘safety planning’ my journey, to instil a sense of security when I am travelling alone.

It comes as no surprise that I am not alone in doing this. In a recent YouGov poll, the first of its kind on street harassment in the UK, 63% of women (versus 45% of men), said they generally feel unsafe in public spaces, and almost half do conscious ‘safety planning’ when they go out in the evenings. 64% of women of all ages have experienced unwanted sexual harassment in public places and 35% of women had experienced unwanted sexual touching.

Numerous countries have increased measures to criminalise street harassment.

In 2015, the Social Democratic party in Portugal introduced a fine of up to 120 Euros or a year in prison for verbal sexual abuse. That same year, Peru implemented a maximum sentence of 12 years, that defines harassment as any act impacting the freedom and dignity of movement, or another person’s right to physical or moral integrity. Belgium passed a law in 2014, introducing a series of fines and prison sentences of up to one year for street harassment crimes. Nicaragua in 2012 passed law 779 also knows as ‘La Ley’ which protects women from public harassment. France made sexual harassment a criminal offence in 2012 with a sentence of up to two years in jail and a fine amounting up to 30,000 Euros.

Whilst the UK has legislation in place, it is not directly in relation to tackling street harassment. Furthermore, often women are either unaware that they can report street harassment, or choose not to on account that it will not be dealt with seriously.

Nottinghamshire Police however, are the first police force in the UK to broaden hate crime, to include gender. The Citizens Advice Bureau, define hate crime as a hostile or violent offence that is directed at people because of who they are or who someone thinks they are and is motivated by prejudice based on: race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender identity.

The catalyst for change started in 2014 when Nottingham Women’s Centre collaborated with Nottingham Citizens to tackle hate crime as an alliance.

Research was conducted whereby women reported that they felt the abuse they received was motivated by their gender, yet they were not able to report these offences as hate crime. This was fed in to a report which recommended a partnership between Nottinghamshire Police and Nottingham Women’s Centre, to look at the issue of gender and its correlation to hate crime.

A ‘Safer for Women’ summit was held in September 2015, whereby women in the community shared their experiences of street harassment. Key stakeholders in the community attended the event, including the police who then made the pledge to create the additional category as well as train their officers to respond to it.

This video, in which a BBC reporter experiences street harassment whilst reporting on street harassment, highlights how prolific the problem is.

Melanie Jeff, the manager at Nottingham Women’s Centre, commented that women often feel powerless after receiving misogynistic abuse, but hopes that this new approach will encourage women to report the offences.

“Since April, more than twenty women have reported an offence under the category of misogynistic hate crime”

There will be cases where the police will not be able to investigate incidents unless they have all the necessary information. However, if a victim reports an incident as hate crime, this can lead to lengthier sentencing after conviction, which can only be achieved if the police and prosecutor present sufficient evidence to prove hostility based on prejudice, further emphasising the importance of reporting.

Likewise, Melanie stressed that the more women who report incidents, the better equipped police will be in identifying patterns of who is offending, where the offences are taking place and thus how to eliminate the problem. Furthermore, Melanie added that this will also facilitate wider discussions regarding street harassment, challenging societal norms and inspiring a cultural shift.

Currently there are no plans for other forces to follow the lead of Nottinghamshire Police, although Melanie informed me that other parts of the country are campaigning for the same approach to be adopted. An event is being held 21st September at Nottingham Trent University to raise awareness of how other groups and agencies might be able to implement this same approach in their communities, tickets can be bought here.

The YouGov poll also revealed that an even more significant percentage of women aged 18-24 had experienced harassment. 85% had faced sexual harassment in public places and 45% had experienced unwanted sexual touching. More than 1 in 4 women said they experienced this before the age of six and more than 3 in 4 said it happened by age 21. These statistics are particularly significant as it highlights how deeply rooted the problem of harassment is in our culture and society. Melanie recalled a friend’s nine-year-old daughter who had watched a news report on the television concerning harassment and commented: ‘that’s what happened at school to me’.

street harassment tweets

If we continue to trivialise these acts of misogynistic hate crime, we will continue to fuel and perpetuate violence against women. Care in Norway has produced a powerful video message titled ‘Dear Daddy’ urging men everywhere to display a zero tolerance to rape culture by refusing to accept verbal or physical abuse towards women. The video implies that a boy who calls a girl a ‘whore’, will end up a rapist, explaining that misogynistic behaviour, including acts in the guise of ‘jokes’ escalate.

Echoing these concerns, Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project has started a petition calling on Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, Justine Greening, and Prime Minister Theresa May, to make Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) compulsory in all schools. Outlined in the petition, Laura maintains ‘We owe every child clear, age-appropriate information, so they can understand that abuse isn’t normal, and learn how to navigate healthy relationships.’

It is only then that we can begin to change societal norms and eliminate violence against women.


For further help and support with tackling street harassment:

Start or Join an Anti-Street Harassment Organization



Mum guilt

by Jennifer Robinson

The guilt that comes with being a Mum

Image source: someecards

I’ll start with an example: Hillary Clinton, who I watched accepting the nomination for the first ever Madame President of the United States in a “well-cut white pantsuit, with immaculate hair and makeup”. Fine.

It was a nice suit, she looked great, but isn’t the discussion around having the first female President of arguably the most powerful nation on earth a little more important?

Isn’t it amazing that one of the busiest and potentially most important women in the world stood on a stage where a few moments earlier her daughter introduced her as her hero, a woman who has always been there for her?

Isn’t it important that if Hillary wins, at the end of her potential two terms there would be an entire generation of young Americans who have never seen a white middle aged man in the Oval Office?

Right, but where does she get her hair done though? I heard it costs over $500 a visit.

I often hear about the conflict surrounding ‘having it all’, i.e. juggling work and a family and what is often referred to as ‘mum guilt’ – which speaking as a soon-to-be mother of two – we feel all the time anyway about everything, it’s not limited to leaving your kid with a nanny while you go out and make an effort towards breaking your own personal glass ceilings.

I’m fortunate in that I’m not trying to be a President, or an athlete, or an actress – maybe my day-to-day worries are a little different. I’ve got kids of both the male and female variety (technically one actual kid and one work in progress), so I’ve ticked that standard life achievement box; I have a good job, so I’ve ticked that life achievement box too.

The guilt that comes with being a Mum

Image source: Personal-Art Pop Art Yourself Pinterest

Oh! But I’m not married yet. Why am I not married? Doesn’t he want to marry me? Have we talked about it? Where do we see our relationship going? Isn’t it time? Five years is a long time… You’ve given him two children, surely it’s only fair. As though our children are my marriage bargaining chip.

“Well you’ll be 30 soon!” Oh great, ageing, please bring that into it. Tell me again about how good a sleeper your newborn is.

What if the main questions on my mind are more like: Where do I see my career going and how can I balance that with bringing up happy children? How do I manage having two halves of my family on different continents? Where do I want my children to go to school? Can I reasonably afford a second part-time home help to ease the load on my nanny once the second baby comes along? Is that a thing? A maid for the nanny?

An endless source of mum guilt is internet baby forums. I went on them A LOT when I was pregnant with my first baby, but this time I have avoided anything to do with them except to check out the weird names people are calling their babies these days.

It seems to me that all these forums do is cause you to question yourself, full of women with extensive birth plans and doulas and queries about whether all-natural-drug-free-hypno-home-births are a good idea after two C Sections and how to find a doctor who will agree.

The guilt that comes with being a Mum

Image source: Valeriy Kachaev dreamstime

The guilt that comes with being a Mum

Image source: someecards



I’m often asked with a kind of quizzical expression as to why I have my babies by C Section (I mean, I’ve had one, and I’ll have another one this year, I don’t think it’s often enough to be considered a theme for my life) and rather than get into the actual medical reasons I extensively discussed with a Consultant Obstetrician, I don’t really know what to say. Do I need to say anything?

I’ve had a nurse call me a coward for not doing it all naturally – even though a glance at my medical history would show that this wasn’t an option. My first midwife was really pro home birth. I don’t hold grudges against them or campaign for C Sections for all. I really do believe in personal choice when it comes to birth, so long as that choice is not taking an unnecessary risk, and while I can’t say that it bothers me, there’s usually no point in getting into the real reasons, so I just say something like “because I know where I’d rather have stitches”. I didn’t realise that the way in which your child exits your body is something to feel guilty about.

I’ve had a nurse call me a coward for not giving birth naturally – and while I can’t say that it bothers me, there’s usually no point in getting into the real reasons. I didn’t realise that the way in which your child exits your body is something to feel guilty about.

Something I have truly noticed as a second time mum is that first time mums tend to think of the birth as the huge event. It’s not the end. It’s not even really the beginning. It might take you up to a year to settle into your new completely upside down life. Like me, you might struggle with postnatal depression. You might be totally fine and spring back into your step within a week. The only thing we can say for sure with babies and children is that you have to be fine with not knowing.

By the time you figure it out and start congratulating yourself, they’ve grown up a bit more and are no longer at that stage.

My final thoughts on ‘mum guilt’ are that a) children adapt, and crucially, they forgive, and b) to your children you’ll be a hero.

They will grow up and see the sacrifices you made, they will understand that you chose to work and it didn’t diminish the love you have for them in any way. You can let them eat chicken nuggets for dinner three days in a row. You can put your crying baby down in a cot and leave the room to collect yourself. When the hyperactive world we live in is constantly throwing things at us to feel guilty about, there’s no need to add to it yourself.