Lecturer discusses street harassment
When Hannah Kane was a freshman at the University of Iowa, she was waiting at the intersection of Iowa Avenue and Gilbert Street when a man grabbed her hand, told her she was beautiful, and kissed it. She ran out into traffic to get away from him and went to a male friend’s house.
Frightened and angry, she told her friend what happened. He shrugged it off and told her it was a compliment. But she didn’t view it as such.
“I felt like this man had transgressed into my personal boundaries and didn’t respect my right to stand on the street and not be kissed by people, especially strange people I did not know,” she said at a Thursday night panel.
After another incident, in College Green Park, in which several men flashed her, she decided to do something about it. The now-UI senior started posting every instance of street harassment she experienced on Twitter and made a Google map detailing each incident. She described the place, time, what she was wearing, and what the men looked like.
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“What do you say when you’re faced with something like this? What do you do?” she asked. Kane said she used to go to the park to relieve stress. Now, she won’t go back.
In an effort to make Iowa City streets safer for women, the Men’s Antiviolence Council, Women’s Resource Action Center, and the Rape Victim Advocacy Program came together on Thursday and hosted Holly Kearl, the author of Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women. Kearl has been working on street harassment for 10 years, tired of being harassed when she tried to walk in peace. Around 40 men and women, mostly students, attended.
“Street harassment is something that I feel is completely discriminatory against me as a woman,” she said in her speech on Thursday night. “No country has achieved gender equality or will until street harassment ends.”
Kearl’s work on Twitter is what prompted Kane to do the same. After Kearl discovered Kane’s work, the two kept in contact, and eventually Kane invited Kearl to the UI.
Kearl offers a variety of suggestions to protect against harassment, such as telling the men to go away.
“Assertive responses are usually more empowering and effective at ending the problem,” Kearl said.
Karla Miller, the executive director of RVAP, said street harassment is a major concern in Iowa City and nationally.
“If you look at how a woman feels after being yelled at on the street — especially if it has a sexual connotation to it — it makes her feel embarrassed, in danger, or not knowing what to do,” she said.
“It’s a form of controlling women. I mean, that [men] make them afraid to go out in public.”
Women don’t ask to be harassed, Miller said, it’s a lack of respect directed at them by men and can escalate over time into sexual assaults.
“We’re not saying all men who catcall are rapists. But it’s hurtful and sexual harassment,” Miller said. “It’s a problem everywhere. Whether you’re walking home from class or alone at night.”
The Men’s Antiviolence Council is starting to take a firm stance on street harassment, said Jerrod Koon, the coordinator for the group. “Our focus is on creating a safe community. And we don’t really talk about public spaces [in our meetings].”
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