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Latinas Most Likely Group to Experience Street Harassment at Young Age, Most Fearful of Escalation

First Posted: Jun 06, 2014 04:39 PM EDT
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A full 45 percent of Hispanics surveyed for a new report said they had experienced verbal harassment, and 33 percent indicated that they'd experienced physically aggressive harassment.

Sometimes it's "subtle." Honking, howling, and whistling, often coupled with "Hey baby," "Hey shorty," "Mamacita," or the ever-popular "Baby, can I get your number?" But often unwanted attention is negative or aggressive, and an individual may become a victim of explicit comments, vulgar gestures, flashing or public masturbation, groping, rubbing, following, or sexual assault.

"Unsafe and Harassed in Public Spaces," a report from Stop Street Harassment, describes these experiences and other unwanted interactions in public spaces motivated by sexual orientation, gender expression or perceived gender, which leads to the harassed feeling humiliated, annoyed, angered or fearful. Neither the term nor the experience is new, and it has an emotional and psychological toll, affecting more than half of all women (57 percent), people of color (41 percent), and those from low-income households (30 percent).

Numbers from the research showed that Hispanics (45 percent) experienced verbal harassment at a rate second only to blacks (48 percent). The same is true of victims of physically aggressive harassment (33 percent), compared to blacks (38 percent) and whites (27 percent). But Hispanic respondents were more likely than either whites or blacks to say that they'd encountered street harassment prior to the age of 17 (60 percent versus 52 percent and 42 percent).

The report indicated that "black and Hispanic responses were statistically significantly different from white responses, but not from each other." In regards to LGBT respondents — particularly men who identified as gay, bisexual or transgender, they were more likely to experience verbal harassment (57 percent) and physically aggressive harassment (45 percent) than heterosexual men (37 percent and 28 percent).

In addition to experiencing harassment at a younger age than other groups, Hispanic individuals (71 percent) indicated that they are "somewhat or very concerned" about the escalation of street harassment, followed by 58 percent of white people and 43 percent of black people.

"A national study like this one is so important because it confirms what street harassment writers and researchers — and those affected by street harassment — already knew: that it's not just a compliment or the price you pay for being a woman or for being gay," Stop Street Harassment Board Member Patrick McNeil said.

Post by Stop Street Harassment.

Maria, a respondent from Colombia now living in Deerfield Beach, Florida, where there is a large Hispanic population (23 percent), said that the harassment is an international issue; in fact, she said that street harassment in the United States seemed "normal and benign compared to Colombia," where it was much more constant and she even had a man touch her back.

An aggressor's actions or words aren't as daunting as the underlying threat or the "gut-wrenching power" it exhibits. Street harassment is not a victimless crime. It can include unwarranted language and unwanted physical contact, which can escalate into rape, non-physical assault, or even murder. It's triggering and upsetting for those who've experienced sexual assault or rape in the past; it can be a traumatic and humiliating experience, causing people to become wary of being approached in public spaces. Among harassed persons, 47 percent of women and 32 percent of men said they began assessing their surroundings after experiencing street harassment. Twenty-nine percent of women became more assertive to deter harassment and 15 percent of women have tried to avoid harassment using headphones, sunglasses, or wearing clothes they deemed to be less attractive.

Men were named as the main harassers of women (70 percent) and men (48 percent), as well as for Hispanics and all other groups. Stop Street Harassment suggested a way to counter this would be to increase the presence of law enforcement and security cameras in public spaces, and to organize educational workshops in schools and communities to teach individuals how to interact with strangers in a respectful and appropriate manner.

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