LONDON, Oct 31 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A video which went viral of a woman being accosted and verbally abused by men in the streets of New York has sparked outrage at the lack of laws to protect women from harassment.
The two-minute video of Shoshana Roberts, dressed in a black T-shirt and jeans, was recorded with a hidden camera by Rob Bliss, a videographer who recruited the actress to highlight the harassment women routinely face walking through the city.
The video, published by advocacy group Hollaback!, has been watched over 22 million times since Tuesday - prompting disbelief, anger and even threats of rape directed at Roberts.
“What’s up beautiful have a good day”, “Hey baby”, “If I give you my number, would you talk to me?” are just some of the comments Roberts was addressed with.
Emily May, co-founder and executive director of Hollaback! said wishing a woman a good day or calling her beautiful might not be as innocent as it seems.
“Often words like ‘good morning’ or ‘hey baby’ escalate into words that are much more violent,” May told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.
“I had experiences when people said ‘good morning’ to me and I responded ‘good morning’ and they used it like I had somehow invited them to then follow me down the street or say much lewder, more disgusting comments to me and I think that street harassment really ruins it for the nice guys,” she added.
What might be a daily occurrence for some women could have serious consequences for the perpetrators and there are options available to victims if they want to take a legal action, May said.
“I think it’s incredibly important that people know what their options are and it’s not the women’s responsibility to have the perfect response to street harassment,” May said. “We need to put the focus on people who are harassing to get them to stop.”
In Nepal a person suspected of street harassment can be arrested without a warrant, according to “Street Harassment: Know Your Rights”. The guide, which was commissioned by Hollaback! and published last month, outlines legal help available to victims in 36 jurisdictions around the world.
A man who improperly touched and made obscene comments to a woman on a street in Argentina was arrested by the police just minutes after the act, the guide reported.
Argentina does not have regulations that specically prohibit and penalize street harassment, but certain behaviour such as unwanted sexual advances can be punished.
In Poland a victim of street harassment can demand that the perpetrator apologises for their actions in public.
In many places victims of harassment can receive legal protection and support while other places recognise the right of victims to report a crime anonymously to avoid potential intimidation by the perpetrator.
“Of course, a legal framework is but one element required to tackle street harassment,” said Laura Nadel, legal director of DLA Piper, the law firm that prepared the guide.
“Public awareness, changing attitudes, enforcement and prosecution are a number of other components which are also needed,” she added.
Reporting by Magdalena Mis; Editing by Katie Nguyen