While our society tends to brush off street harassment as relatively harmless and acceptable, it has detrimental effects, and even catcalling can have dangerous repercussions. For example, a student bothered by a catcaller along one street may divert to an alternate and less safe route just to avoid feeling threatened. Which is why street harassment should no longer be tolerated or just accepted as part of our culture.
On May 29, Philippine Senator Risa Hontiveros said in a statement that the lapsing of the Safe Streets, Workplaces, and Public Spaces Act into law is a “massive victory” and a “major push back” against what she called the country’s growing “bastos behavior.”
“Now, women and LGBTs have a strong policy instrument to protect us from gender-based street harassment. With this law, we will reclaim our streets from sexual harassers and gender bigots and make public spaces safe for all,” she said.
With the passing of the law, women and LGBTs now have certain protection against being uncomfortable, unsafe, and disrespected. Fines for violators range from P1,000 and community service to P10,000 and jail time, depending on the number of offenses committed.
But what’s the difference between an innocent compliment and a catcall? Actions such as cursing, wolf-whistling, catcalling, leering, persistently requesting for information, using words that ridicule including sexist, homophobic and transphobic slurs, or the persistent telling of sexual jokes are all considered Light Violations. Inappropriate behavior beyond these examples are even graver violations.
Aside from having this revolutionary new law, there are also other things one can do to stop catcalling.
Experts say that one way to stop a catcaller is to make eye contact. According to Holly Kearl, in her book Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming For Women, strong body language such as direct eye contact will surprise the harasser, which will shock them enough to not retaliate. “It forces them to think about what they’ve said or done,” she said.
Using a firm voice to call out the harasser also works. Try negative statements like “No, leave me alone” or “I don’t appreciate it. Go away.” These will stun a harasser and will, hopefully, stop him or her from catcalling.
If the catcaller won’t stop and follows you, cross the street and pretend to call a friend, and say. “I’m just down the block and will be there soon. See you!” This will make the harasser back down for fear that someone is waiting for you and meeting you, lessening his chances of further harassing you.
However, harassment usually happens at night and whenever a woman is alone, so simply avoiding the harasser/s and walking away is often a better course of action, and not engaging at all is recommended.
With the passing of the new law, hopefully more women will find the strength to speak up for themselves against sexual harassment and catcalling, while men and those who catcall will learn to be more mindful of their actions.