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Sarah Nelson
Mr. Newman
English 101: Rhetoric
1 December 2014
Catcalling: Should it be Punishable?
Everybody has heard it done at some point in their life. Some people may have even been
yelling or yelled at. Catcalling degrades women, but men believe it to be a form of compliment
for females. Many women have shined light onto this topic, but the most recent headliner, the
video 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman has sparked controversy on how and if these
so-called compliments should be controlled. Catcalling should be punishable under the law
which would take a step towards gender equality.
To catcall is to make a whistle, comment, or shout of a sexual nature to a woman passing
by. Catcalling is very controversial, shown in the video previously referenced. The woman was
filmed walking around in New York City in a plain black crew neck t-shirt and black jeans,
nothing revealing or attention-getting. Although she chose a very plain outfit, she recorded more
than 100 instances of men catcalling her. At one point a man walked beside her for five minutes
and another tried giving her his number when she did not respond. Although this video sheds
light onto the issue, it includes men simply saying good morning and God bless you. This
gives men the impression that they must avoid conversing with women altogether and shows the
difficulty of defining catcalls and violating the First Amendment.

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Women hear the comments and yelling every day. Some of them may feel threatened and
want to report it to the police so they are able to live their lives feeling safe. Roughly two-thirds
of women report hearing catcalls directed toward them on a daily basis. On the other hand, Laura
Beth Nielsen, author of License to Harass, says mens estimates of the frequency of such
occurrences is significantly lower. They are currently unable to receive justice. It is not known
how many citizens report harassment in states with these laws and it is not known how many
people are convicted of violating them. According to Holly Kearl, founder and author of Stop
Street Harassment, these harassment laws must change because very few people are found guilty
or accused of rape and the number for verbal harassment is likely very small. Women who
have suffered the most serious sexual offense, rape, will never see their rapist accused. It is not
unusual that so few women report verbal harassment. Since the number of people who are
convicted of or found guilty of rape is so small, women do not believe that the simple act of
verbally attacking someone will not help the victim receive justice.
Verbal sexual harassment laws would give women the justice they deserve, but also a
step towards gender equality. America has come far in giving everybody equality. Nonetheless,
there are still issues with women in careers. Only twelve women ran Fortune 500 companies.
Women made up 31% of lawyers and only 19% of partners in law firms. These are the minor
crimes against equality; women have the power to work to fulfill these spots and change the
facts.. However far we have come in achieving complete gender equality, a large proportion of it
occurs outside of work, in womens daily lives. Nielsen emphasizes the fact that a law against
verbal sexual harassment would demand equality for women. The law proposed intimidates,
harasses and perpetuates inequality (Nielsen). The verbal sexual harassment laws would give all
women this needed equality. Women cant wear clothing they want because they will be the ones

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who are blamed for the crimes they were a victim of. Women cant walk down the street in any
city or town without having the fear of a man yelling what he believes to be compliments at her.
Verbal sexual harassment laws would give every woman the power to stand up for and protect
herself and not have to live in fear.
Opponents of verbal sexual harassment laws claim that this type of law is not needed to
prohibit and warn against catcalling. They also believe that there are other forms of preventing
women from becoming victims of verbal sexual harassment. Gabe Rottman, policy advisor with
the American Civil Liberties Union, asserts that all states already have laws governing many
forms of street harassment. Although this statement is true and men and women alike have this
protection, very few if any women use these laws against the men catcalling them in the streets.
This is simply due to the fact that a small proportion of people who commit worse crimes, such
as sexual assault are found guilty of that crime. Reporting a crime under the street harassment
laws already in effect cant help the victim or any future victims. According to Rottman, passing
a law specifically prohibiting verbal sexual harassment can pose special problems for the First
Amendment, and can be misused against lawful protesters, people criticizing the police and
individuals filming officers in public. These types of laws have the ability to be used against
law abiding citizens, but every law has this capability. If someone were to accuse an innocent
person against a verbal sexual harassment law, the accused would be inconvenienced, but as a
whole society would benefit by gaining some gender equality therefore outweighing the
possibility of a small number of people being wrongly accused. As with stop-and-frisk programs
and anti-panhandling laws, the verbal sexual harassment laws are able to be used with broken
windows policing (Rottman). In other words, the law enforcement unfairly target communities
of color than the white non-Hispanic communities. The issue of police targeting minority groups

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would not be resolved by not passing verbal sexual harassment laws that are severely needed. As
stated by Rottman, the broken window policing occurs in many programs in laws. This
would not be helped in any way by getting rid of only one of many influences. Opponents of this
law claim that police sexually harass women too. Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, a visual artist in
Brooklyn, says some women are wary of bringing the police into their communities because of
fears of police brutality and profiling. Women may be scared of police because they, along with
men off the street, harass them too, however this is a separate issue. While there have been
incidents of police sexually harassing citizens, there are laws that specifically identify and deal
with the problem of police brutality.
The issues with the Constitution and law enforcement are only some of the reasons
people oppose the catcalling laws. Opponents say that there are methods that can be used instead
of involving the government. Kearl argues that we are able to use awareness campaigns in
schools, communities and on public transit to reinforce the knowledge that saying sexual things
to strangers is morally wrong. While this may cause some men to realize this, there are many
more people who will not be affected by these campaigns. An extraordinary number of people
ignore or simply dont care about many of the campaigns they come across, so there is no excuse
to believe that these verbal sexual harassment campaigns would be any different.
America would benefit as a whole if verbal sexual harassment laws were passed. Laws
currently in effect do not assist women in receiving justice because they rarely help convict the
harassers. Along with justice, women would be one step closer to gender equality. The needed
laws could bring up problems with police, however, these problems wouldnt be solved by
allowing verbal sexual harassment to go unpunished.

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Works Cited
Fazlalizdeh, Tatyana. Telling Our Stories to Change the Culture of Harassment. New York
Times: Room for Debate. New York Times Company, 31 Oct. 2014 Web. 25 Nov. 2014.
Kearl, Holly. Fight Street Harassment with Training, Awareness and Legal Action When
Fitting. New York Times: Room for Debate. New York Times Company, 31 Oct. 2014
Web. 25 Nov. 2014.
Nielsen, Laura Beth. Street Harassment Law Would Restrict Intimidating Behavior. New York
Times: Room for Debate. New York Times Company, 3 Nov. 2014 Web. 25 Nov. 2014.
Rottman, Gabe. Legislating Catcalling Comes with Real Risks. New York Times: Room for
Debate. New York Times Company, 31 Oct. 2014 Web. 25 Nov. 2014