Sexual Harassment in Public Spaces

Sexual harassment is a problem that affects many people across the world. There are various types of sexual harassment, which can take place in public spaces. However, public spaces are not limited to physical areas online public spaces also fall under this category. This article discusses sexual harassment in public spaces, including both physical and digital forms.

Defining Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is the act of using one’s power (economic, social, physical) to make someone else feel uncomfortable because of their sex or gender, often to the point where they are forced out of situations where this might happen again. The harasser may be an acquaintance or stranger. It can also include cat-calling (i.e., whistling at someone on the street).

US Definition of Public Spaces

To have an effective discussion, it is important to define what a “public space” is. The definition of a public space varies from country to country and sometimes even region to region. In the United States, public space is defined as any place that members of the public have access to or can go without too much difficulty. This includes sidewalks, streets, parks, etc. For this article, sexual harassment in social media will also fall under this category because these platforms are accessible by anyone with internet access.

Types of Sexual Harassment in Public Spaces

Sexual harassment takes various forms in different situations and places. These include:
• Street harassment: This includes cat-calling, lewd comments, and stalking.
• Sexual assault: This includes touching someone’s genitals or breast without consent.
• Rape: Rape is defined as any sexual act done on a person without their consent.
• Stalking: Stalking is any unwanted contact with someone like following them around, social media messaging (i.e., Facebook), driving by their house, etc.
• Other Harassments: Other forms of harassment include sexual jokes, derogatory comments about one’s gender/sexuality/appearance, the use of terms that are offensive to certain groups (e.g., “Fag”), unsolicited invitations for dates or intimacy, etc., forced revealing clothes or being asked to wear them for the harasser to find you attractive, etc.

What the law says about Sexual Harassment in Public Spaces

In the US, sexual harassment falls under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This covers public spaces. To have a valid claim under this law, an individual must prove that they were treated unequally because of their sex/gender and that another person or group was responsible for this treatment.
In New York City specifically, if someone sexually harasses you in a public space, it is against the city’s rules to respond by harassing them back (i.e., fighting fire with fire). If someone speaks inappropriately to you on your commute home from work or while walking down the street, there are laws about how you should react in these situations. Individuals should keep their eyes forward and ignore any comments. If someone is following you, you should act as you know them; find a place to go where there are people (i.e., a grocery store); ask for help; call 911.

Online Sexual Harassment in Public Spaces

Digital public spaces include social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, etc. These types of harassment also fall under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law states that individuals cannot discriminate against others based on their sex/gender in any company space, including digital platforms or events organized by a company/public organization. Like physical public spaces, a person would need to prove that they were treated unequally because of their sex/gender and that another person or group was responsible for this treatment.
The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence notes that in the United States, it is legal for “concealed weapons permit holders” to carry handguns in public spaces. This may be one reason why Sexual Harassment in Public Spaces is rampant in this country.

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