THE BLOG
06/03/2014 08:45 am ET | Updated Aug 03, 2014

Report: Street Harassment a Major Problem in the United States

Today, Stop Street Harassment (SSH) is releasing the largest ever national report on street harassment -- a much-needed confirmation of what writers and researchers of the topic -- and of course, those who experience it -- have been saying all along.

According to the report, 65 percent of women and 25 percent of men reported experiencing at least one type of street harassment in their lifetime, and many more men who identified as LGBT than men who identified as straight reported experiencing it.

These numbers shouldn't be surprising. If anything, they should seem low. In previous, informal surveys conducted by SSH, 99 percent of respondents said they had experienced some form of street harassment. And in my own research on experiences of gay and bisexual men, 90 percent said they sometimes, often, or always feel unwelcome in public spaces because of their sexual orientation.

But this report is significant, because it tells us -- as previous research suggests -- that it's an issue that starts at a very young age, that happens multiple times to most people, that scares people and makes them concerned it will escalate, and that forces people to change their lives in some way as a result of the experience.

Almost half of women and about a third of men who reported experiencing street harassment said they began to constantly assess their surroundings afterward. In my study of gay and bisexual men, 71 percent of the men said they constantly assessed their surroundings when navigating public spaces.

On the extreme end, 4 percent of survey takers in SSH's report said they made a big life decision because of harassers -- like quitting a job or moving neighborhoods. This number should be zero.

And beyond these physical responses, street harassment impacts people in deeply emotional ways. In an interview included in the report, Dr. Beth Livingston, assistant professor at Cornell University's ILR School, says that feelings such as fear, anxiety, anger, shame, and helplessness are incredibly common in street harassment narratives.

"These sorts of emotions -- particularly when experienced day after day -- can become paralyzing," Livingston says. "It is incredibly likely that, as with many other negative emotional experiences, the impact can accumulate over time, leading to behavioral and health outcomes that we all should be concerned about."

And she's right. This should be troubling for everyone.

Thankfully, SSH has included a number of recommendations and promising practices, including specific suggestions for educators and community leaders, law enforcement, local government and businesses, and -- crucially -- all of us.

There is still much to learn about how different groups experience this type of harassment, and how identities intersect to create unique experiences, but SSH's report should be lauded for its inclusion of groups -- like queer women of color, Native American women, and immigrant women - who are so often ignored or forgotten.

What we know for sure is that changing social attitudes takes time - a lot of time. But this report is an important step - and a call to action -- on the road to ending street harassment once and for all.

Find the report and other resources on SSH's website here.

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