Treat street harassment as a crime

tags: street harassment

Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of history and education at New York University. He is the author of “Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education,” which will be published next spring by Princeton University Press.

A hundred years ago, men who made lewd comments to female passersby were known as “mashers.” In 1913, an Omaha judge drew up a “Masher’s Schedule” of fines against them. The penalty for calling a woman “chicken” was $5; “honey-bunch,” $10; “turtle-dove,” $15; and “baby doll,” $20.

I didn’t hear any of these terms in the viral catcalling video posted by the anti-harassment group Hollaback!, in which actress Shoshana Roberts is accosted by over 100 men during a 10-hour walk through Manhattan. But I also haven’t heard anyone suggest that her tormentors should have been reported to the police, or penalized by the courts.

And that tells you something important about our current moment. On the one hand, we’re shocked — shocked! — by the harassment on the video, which has been viewed by over 30 million people. But we don’t have the legal guts to stop it.

True, Hollaback! and some of its allies have called for stronger enforcement of anti-harassment laws. But that’s created a backlash in the blogosphere, where critics insist that this is really just a problem of bad manners — if it’s a problem at all.

Prior generations of Americans understood that laws and manners influence each other. Across the country, officials used disorderly-conduct and loitering laws to arrest and fine sexual harassers. Or they instituted special “anti-masher” measures, like the Omaha judge’s fine schedule...

Read entire article at NY Daily News

comments powered by Disqus