Local group focuses on street harassment


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Iowa City residents are hopeful that a newly formed group will soon put an end to street harassment.

Stop Street Harassment in Iowa City is a nonprofit resident’s group that aims to provide opportunities all across the community for people to share their own stories and learn how to better handle harassment.

The group gathered on Wednesday to discuss the ways in which ordinary citizens can help raise awareness about the various harassments pedestrians may endure while walking to their destinations.

“I’ve met a lot of people, students, and members of the community, and everyone has one or numerous stories of harassment that’s either happened to them or that they’ve seen happen,” group organizer Stella Hart said.

Harassment constitutes anything from catcalling at passing pedestrians to physical contact or assault.  It’s an issue that has been becoming increasingly visible on both the national and local level, she said.

Hart isn’t sure if it’s Iowa City’s party culture, but the University of Iowa continues to experience consistent reports of sexual assault.  UI police already this semester have reported three instances of sexual assault from students, on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.

Between July 1, 2013 and March 31, the Rape Victim Advocacy Program received 109 calls from Iowa City residents who had been raped in the last six months, with 38 of them identifying themselves as students at the University of Iowa.

Those numbers don’t take into account many of the less violent and visible acts of harassment that many face every day in Iowa City, UI alum and Iowa City social worker Stacia Scott said.

“I think people can find comfort in distancing themselves,” Scott said. “It’s easy to think that it’s happening in New York but not here.”

During her time in Iowa City, Scott said strangers have followed her home twice, and she’s been catcalled too many times to count. 

Hart intends for the group to be proactive in teaching members how to respond if they are the targets of harassment as well as potentially providing bystander intervention training so members can more effectively help others.

Other suggestions for action included public protests, placing posters of perpetrators in public view, and creating attention-grabbing artworks downtown.

Iowa City City Councilor Terry Dickens shares the group’s concern that harassment has become pervasive in Iowa City, especially during game days when alcohol can intensify the issue.

“There’s not enough police in the world to control it; I think it’s a behavioral problem,” Dickens said.

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