Given the rape cases that made it to the major news circuits in the past year (the Delhi gang rape, Stubenville rape case), there isn’t enough attention being given to rape culture — the conditions that mask the seriousness of rape and make it into a joke. These incidents of rape are not going away until these conditions do, and one such condition is the prevalence of street harassment.
Street harassment includes anything from comments such as "nice ass," or "hey, babe" to groping, flashing and assault in public. Many argue that street harassment constitutes a form of sexual violence, similar to rape.
Such a link between street harassment and rape is probably old news to Emily May, the founder of Hollaback!, an organization which aims to eradicate street harassment around the world. According to some research Hollaback has collected over the years, 80 to 99% of women all around the world experience street harassment at some point in their lives. And the stories of street harassment on Hollaback and other anti-street harassment blogs show exactly how these "casual" comments about a person’s body on the street can carry underlying threats of rape and violence.
Just two months ago in San Francisco, a street harasser on the street slashed a woman’s face when she rejected his advances. And here’s a story where a street harasser threatened to kill the woman who rejected his advances. Catcalls are not a joke.
But what about all those women who dress provocatively on the street? Aren't they asking to be harassed? No, they are not.
Behold another aspect of rape culture: the normalization and banality of street harassment and victim-blaming. First off, the assumption that what a woman wears and how she looks has anything to do with street harassment assumes that people who are deemed unattractive don’t get harassed at all — which is false.
Secondly, we have historical evidence! Street harassment was well and alive back in the 1800s, when the fashion trends of the day called for women to be covered from neck to toe. So historically speaking, what a woman decides to wear, how much or how little skin she is showing, has never made her more or less susceptible to harassment. If a woman gets harassed and she was wearing short-shorts, she was not harassed because she was wearing those short-shorts!
The prevalence of rape and street harassment against women has nothing to do with women and their choices, but rather a culture that supports and makes mundane acts of violence against women.