Safe Street ~ Winning Article

“Just because I move through public space, does not mean that my body is public”

This is a very common phrase which is associated with street harassments. Street harassment is a form of discrimination against women which directly affects women’s rights and dignity. This is a very common sight in Sri- Lanka. Not only in Sri-Lanka, but also even in developed countries street harassments do take place. There are people who like to inflict pain upon others and derive pleasure through it. Harassers always try to bully people who are in public areas such as streets, shopping malls and public transportation with different motives. Street harassments mainly include unwanted comments, gestures or acts directed at someone in a public space without their consent. Harassers may comment on a woman’s physical appearance or her presence in public. For instance, they might harass verbally by calling “hey baby” and also might use vulgar suggestions and threats. These comments or acts may mainly target at a woman, a transgender, homosexual or at a child. These are the main groups of people who get victimized on streets. This is not confined only to streets, but also prevalent in public transportation and shopping malls. This street harassment is only one type of harassment. Sexual harassment is also a form of street harassments. However due to these actions, millions of people get embarrassed in front of public and thus this emotional and psychological downfall cause severe impacts on their personal and career life.

Women who are street harassed may also experience physical and psychological harms as a result of this behavior. Physical responses to street harassment may include nausea, vomiting, irregular breathing, shaking, muscle tension, numbness, dizziness, increased heart rate, and other physical stress responses. Some of the psychological responses include anxiety, stress, humiliation, fear, shame, embarrassment, lowered self-esteem, vulnerability, and a decreased sense of personal safety. Street harassment may also trigger post-traumatic stress from flashbacks to a previous sexual trauma, and cause women to experience future sexual dysfunction and dissatisfaction as a result of “self-conscious body monitoring and body-based shame and anxiety.

Hirushi Mallawatantri

Street harassments can occur in different ways. Sometimes, when women walk on roads, so-called harassers try to call out different names for them, laugh at women and hoot at them which make them feel embarrassed. These acts and behaviors are quite common in Sri- Lanka. Further, a transgender person’s situation will be pathetic on streets. Especially, on public transportation, transgender people get discriminated. People dislike such personalities. They look down upon them. Mainly, on these platforms, transgender people get harassed verbally and physically. Perhaps, they might get harassed sexually as well. At such situations, even though they ask for help, others will not willingly help them. These are dreadful situations which affect security, discipline and freedom of citizens. The interviews conducted with transgender people reveal that the harassers ask unnecessary questions from them and when they keep quiet, harassers get annoyed and try to bully them. Sometimes, they snatch their handbags and run away. Thus, here harassers try to manipulate them to fulfill their desires. They threaten transgender people and loot their valuable belongings. Next, women do get harassed at shopping malls. Certain men try to initiate a conversation with the very common utterance “You look familiar to me”. Later on, they take efforts to talk more with the women and try to follow them which makes women feel nervous and uncomfortable.

This is indeed a menace. When people subject to harassments, it leaves dark memories on the back of their minds which make them feel insecure and anxious. Women are scared of going out at night. It is mainly due to these street harassments. Street harassment severely restricts the physical and geographical mobility of women. It not only diminishes a woman’s feelings of safety and comfort in public places, but also restricts her freedom of movement, depriving her of liberty and security in the public sphere. For example, if a woman stands on the road late night, obviously she gets harassed. People might think that she is a prostitute, even though she is not. “A young woman alone on the road late night”. What would be the impression of others on the alone woman? Furthermore, a young woman travelling in a public transport might become a prey of a street harasser. He might try to touch the woman, squeeze her, might behave in a sensuous way to provoke feelings and use abusive words to embarrass her. Especially, when a homosexual person is identified by society, he also gets harassed, tortured in brutal ways on streets. Thousands of such people walk on the road per day. Their walking style, manner of talking and behavior are different. Thus, that difference itself becomes a reason for the harassers to torture such people. Society will laugh at homosexuals, transgender and lesbians. However, it is not a factor, a reason for the people to harass them mercilessly. Simply, it is their sexual preference. Unfortunately, day by day street harassments increase rapidly signaling that there is no protection, security on streets. Moreover, it is a threat to freedom and causes gender inequality. The country India is more vulnerable to these street harassments. Young girls frequently become preys of street torturers. In India, women feel unsafe particularly in public spaces and single women feel threatened in almost every context. As India is a country of conservative ideas, beliefs and norms, it gives very little significance to women. Women are considered as trivial; thus they are subjected to sexual harassments in a large scale.

Charithma Dissanayake

Irrespective of the advancements and innovations, the countries like United States and United Kingdom have this menace. Across the country, UK girls face verbal and physical harassment every day. According to the statistics, in 2018 66% of girls aged 14 to 21 had experienced unwanted sexual attention and harassments in public places. In United States, 65% of women become victims of street harassments. Not only women, but also 25% of men get harassed. They had been physically harassed in some way, such as being followed, flashed or groped. A new survey including women from France, Spain, Italy and Germany do encounter harassments and torture. Such behaviors include wolf whistling, sexist insults and rude gestures. The most common street harassment complaint among women in South Asia was eve teasing. There are countless cases of eve teasing in South Asia. Hence, it is very clear that street harassments have widespread.

Street harassments are in varying degrees. People become victims of sexual harassments which is a violation of law. This can be either by words or actions. However, street harassment issue has not been addressed specifically in Sri-Lankan law. In contrast to Sri- Lankan law, France made street harassment a crime punishable by on- the spot fines for perpetrators. In addition, street harassment is illegal in Portugal. New Zealand is another country that fines street harassers. Hence, these actions will help the countries to stem the tide of street harassments and violence. Street harassment is a global problem. This is linked with the attitudes, emotions and feelings of human beings. Thus, it is the duty of people to think rationally and intelligently about this matter in order to create a safe street. Therefore, as a country if we work harmoniously and take immediate actions to protect the rights of victims of street harassments, we will be able to ensure security and freedom on streets at any time. So, let’s join hands together to disperse the seeds of humanity, intelligence and compassion in order to eliminate the threat of street harassments.

Penned By: Disara Abeywickrama

1st place for Safe Street – Article Category

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