“I remember, there were older men that one day whistled at us and were saying like, ‘Oh, you guys are really beautiful.’ One of them said that we looked sexy, which was really uncomfortable to hear as an 11-year-old who thought she was just like going to practice and playing a sport,” said Claire O’Leary, a junior at New York University.
O’Leary experienced her first encounter with street harassment when she was only 11 years old, something a girl that young should never have to deal with. Unfortunately, it is a hard reality many young girls like O’Leary face everyday.
Chanel Seto also had her first experience with street harassment at a young age. “I have to say young, like 10 or 11,” she said.
Both Seto and O’Leary said these experiences changed their lives and altered the way they carry themselves as young women in society. “I guess you could say it was a loss of innocence,” said Seto. “I was very naive, I was very open to the world, and then after that […] I tried to make myself as unnoticeable as possible.”
To hear more of O’Leary and Seto’s stories, watch the video below.
“I don’t know anyone who hasn’t,” said O’Leary, regarding the number of her friends who have experienced some level of street harassment in their lives. In this day and age, street harassment is a prevalent issue, not just in major cities, but everywhere across the globe.
Staring, whistles, catcalls, a general air of discomfort and unease — this is what women, women of all ages, all races, face in the streets on a daily basis. No matter where you come from, street harassment is a major problem which women have accepted as simply a part of everyday life. These are the experiences of real women and street harassment.
In the U.S. alone, 65 percent of women reported experiencing some level of street harassment in their lives, according to a study conducted by StopStreetHarassment.org.
Someone leading the fight against street harassment is Sophie Sandberg, owner and creator of the popular Instagram account @catcallsofnyc.
“I was driven to start @catcallsofnyc because, growing up in NYC, I had experienced catcalling since age 15. I was frustrated by how normal catcalling was,” said Sandberg. “No one was talking about [it], or if they did, they would mainly chalk it up to an annoyance and nothing more. I wanted to start a bigger conversation about street harassment, and give people a place to share their stories. I also wanted to show people who weren’t experiencing street harassment what was happening and what exactly was being said.”
Sandberg said these comments are objectifying as they often refer to one specific aspect of a woman’s body, thus turning her into a sexual object. “These comments are aggressive violations of our bodies. They provoke fear and powerlessness. I’m disgusted by how often men find it acceptable to make these vulgar comments,” said Sandberg.
Scroll through some of Sandberg’s work by using the map below to navigate through New York City and see if any of these catcalls occurred near you.
Street harassment may appear to be an issue that, in our current society and world climate, will never go away, but with the sharing of stories and experiences, as well as the education of others, we can draw more attention to this issue. One day we will fully end street harassment.