Catcalling is harassment- lets start there. It’s a frequent experience for an immense number of women, one that is downplayed and overlooked because of its apparent ‘friendly’ nature. This is because of the deeply rooted misogyny in a myriad of cultures. In the past, it was viewed as ‘complimentary’ to catcall and was ingrained into society as a positive concept, however, with the social developments of the modern world we need to recognise the real effects; especially in this day and age where assault and trafficking crimes are ever more violent and frequent. Street harassment is now illegal in France, Belgium and Portugal- isn’t it time for the UK to follow suit?

Over 80% of women in the UK claim to have experienced street harassment, and that’s just adult women. According to researchers with anti-harassment group iHollaback and Cornell University, 84% of females have been catcalled under the age of 17. Scarier still? 13% of women are exposed to it by the young age of 10. According to the United Nations, the numbers have increased substantially since 2010 and have been on the rise ever since, with the majority of victims being women and children.

Why should we care about catcalling? Surely, it’s harmless- right? Wrong. The short-term effects consist of feelings of powerlessness, objectification, anger, hurt and fear. Studies also show that street harassment can cause long-term emotional and psychological harm. People are forced to adapt their routes, their clothing, and their behaviour in order to secure their safety. It is completely dehumanising and reduces the victim to a sexual object- in today’s society, that equates to being a walking target, which can, in some instances, become the case. Street harassment is a method of exerting power; it compels the victim to an overwhelming feeling of helplessness.

There’s a common misconception that fat bodies cannot be desired, and, as a result, plus-size people are less likely to be believed or supported when trying to gain help as a victim of street harassment. Street harassment doesn’t just affect a set body type- there is a certain entitlement that gives harassers the impression that plus-size people are likely to be flattered, relieved or honoured by the attention; this is simply not the case. Our culture tells harassers that plus-size people will be ‘grateful for the attention’ or that ‘they want you more than you want them’. This culture needs to be obliterated- anyone at all can be the victim of street harassment, and the appearance of a person does not make it any more acceptable.

Everyone should have the right to walk safely without being harassed- our bodies are not public property. The law should protect our mental safety as well as our physical safety; making it a criminal offence will empower victims to report incidents and dissuade harassers. Let’s hold those around us responsible for their words.  

Sign the petition below to make public sexual harassment a criminal offence in the UK: