Catcalling: Is it illegal? How to Deal With It

The words “hey baby” as you walk by can as grating as fingernails on a chalkboard if you are a woman and have been dealing with catcalling your whole life.

Catcalling and Street Harassment

What is Catcalling?

Catcalling is part of a collective group of actions that men often partake in when seeing a woman on the street. It can be as simple as making comments, making lewd gestures, following her, offering things, honking, whistling and other offensive and unwanted attention.

For the woman, it is uncomfortable and annoying. Just knowing you have to pass by a crew working on the street and what you can expect can ruin your day.

Is it Illegal? Is it Considered Harassment?

Although many people might think of catcalling and accompanying behaviors as innocent and harmless in many states and circumstances, they are actually illegal sexual harassment with steep fines and jail time.

Street harassment Laws

New York City disallows obscene gestures or language, and if someone catcalls you twice, they will be fined $250 and spend 15 days in jail.

Other states like Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania make it illegal to follow someone even if you are playing around. It is unwanted and uncomfortable.

District of Columbia law states:  “it's illegal to engage in abusive language or conduct that disturbs a person's path through public space.”

After many years of abuse, it is comforting to see states take this type of harassment seriously and punish the offenders.

Catcalling is the least offensive of some of the harassment actions, but it can still be illegal in many states. Check with yours to find out precisely what is considered harassment or not.

Statistics of Catcalling in the U.S.

The statistics of street harassment and catcalling are shocking. More than 65% of all women surveyed report being sexually harassed on the street. 65% were subject to verbal abuse such as catcalls, whistles and gestures and another 41% to physical violence. 23% were touched inappropriately, another 20% report being followed and 9% were forced to perform a sexual act. Additionally, one in four women will be sexually assaulted during their lives. Since catcalling and street sexual harassment can start early, researchers suspect that the total number of women exposed to this behavior is much higher than 65%.

Catcalling Laws

Men are not excluded from the abuse, and 25% have been street harassed at some point in their lives. Those who reported abuse were predominately LGBT males that experienced transphobic slurs and catcalls.

How to Deal With Catcalling

Although there is no perfect solution for dealing with catcalling the best weapon at your defense is information. The more educated you are about catcalling and street harassment the better you will be equipped to handle it.

Since each situation will be different, you need a variety of strategies, and you need to know what the law is in your state and how it protects you.

If you are scared and think you are in real danger, call 911 or get to a safe place quickly. If you are being harassed and it’s in a public place, then the best action to take is to stop and confront your attacker. Put them on the spot and loudly ask them to repeat themselves (so nearby people can hear) or in a loud voice exclaim “stop harassing me, or I will contact the police, what you are doing is illegal.” You can also say “back off” or “leave me alone.” Sometimes publicly shaming them and turning the tables will cause them to retreat and leave you alone immediately. You may also want to carry around a flyer on street harassment and hand it to them. Taking unexpected and shocking action will leave the offender unprepared.

If you are walking by a work crew, you can jot down the company name and report them to their employer.

Share your story online to help others stop the abuse. If you witness someone else being harassed in the street, don’t hesitate to intervene on his or her behalf. Report street harassment to the police.

Although helpful changes in the law are not the complete answer, together we can put an end to catcalling and street harassment once and for all.