Event encourages the sharing of street harassment stories

Somerset senior Lindsay Thomas is leading a local branch of a national movement to end street harassment as part of her Leadership Capstone. Pictured here in a composite photo illustration, Thomas says it is important to talk about cat-calling and other forms of harassment on the street, especially as weather warms up and more people are outdoors. “I just want people to know about it, and know their rights. A lot of people don’t know harassment is illegal; they just think they have to take it. But they don’t.”

Andrew Henderson

“Babes Against Bullshit.” “Cats Against Cat-Calls.” The “Catcaller Form.” Fliers with these phrases pepper campus information boards promoting the Stop Street Harassment campaign. 

Lindsay Thomas, senior and Philadelphia native, is the woman behind this recent surge of anti-street harassment advocacy. Thomas is spearheading the Stop Street Harassment event Thursday, April 16 in Downing Student Union from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the second floor. 

Street harassment is defined as “unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent and is directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation,” according to stopstreetharassment.org.

The event is a community effort to encourage people to come and tell their stories and experiences involving street harassment, Thomas said.  

“People don’t really understand that street harassment is a big deal until you’re a woman walking anywhere really,” she said. “It happens to men too, but mostly women.”

Stop Street Harassment (SSH) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to documenting, addressing and ending gender-based street harassment worldwide. SSH commissioned a 2,000 person national survey, finding that 65 percent of women had experienced street harassment. 

Thomas wants to help other people realize that they don’t have to put up with this kind of behavior. 

“There are actually laws against it, but nobody really goes that far because nobody really knows,” she said. “People are just going to say get over it, it’s not a problem, you should take it as a compliment.” 

Thomas understood firsthand the frustrations of gender-based harassment. A male approached her in front of the door of her apartment, cornered her in her doorway and began asking her out. She politely refused, but said he came back a second time. 

“Later he comes by and knocks on the door and I didn’t answer, and he knocked even harder,” she said. “So I had to come out, and he had this whole excuse that he had to use my phone, and I’m just like, ‘I’d rather not,’ and then he asked me out again.” 

Thomas isn’t the only one who has had experiences such as this one. Vanessa Turner, junior from Henderson, is a close friend of Thomas and a volunteer for the SSH event. 

Turner said she was young when she had her first experience with street harassment. As she walked to her house, an “interesting gentleman” drove by and shouted, “Hey baby, how are you?” 

“I just kind of stood there, and it made me feel weird. It made me feel awkward, and I think I was 10 when that happened,” Turner said. 

 Craig Clark, a senior from Hackettstown, New Jersey, is also one of the volunteers for SSH. Clark will be acting as a male ally to stop street harassment for the event. Clark said he believes there’s never an excuse to behave in the vulgar and rude manners associated with street harassment. He said by providing a male perspective he hopes to educate other males on the topic.

“Having a male talk to another male may sometimes open up their eyes where a woman may not be able to,” Clark said.

Turner said she believes it’s not necessarily only females that are affected by street harassment. 

“With street harassment, I think that [we should] not only stop street harassment for females, but it should be for all genders. However you identify,” Turner said.

Thomas wants the event to educate people and to let them know that they’re not alone in facing street harassment and encourages people to come and share their stories. 

“Allowing them to share stories, showing them their rights and showing them this website where they can find any of this information they need, that’s my main goal,” Thomas said.