Street harassment leave victims feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020 00:00 |
Street harassment. Photo/Courtesy

Picture this... You are having a glorious morning, feeling all bloomy and ready to face the day.

All glammed and out to the direction the day brings forth and right then, a stranger says the most sexual, out-of-place statement about your body. 

Usually, the immediate feeling is irritation and sudden fear escalation. What if he decides to follow you, ridicule you publicly or even touch you? 

Street harassment is taken as an innocent action yet there is nothing innocent about it. It takes many forms, including catcalls, vulgar gestures, making kissing noises and stalking. 

Leah Augo, a model, says her body has put her in such uncomfortable situations, especially when walking on the streets. 

“I am naturally made this way. And I do have a big backside, but sometimes I feel like its being used against me.

I get random uncomfortable compliments from random men. A couple of months ago, I put on some weight and things became even worse.

I don’t normally know what to say or how to react, so I ignore and keep walking on, but honestly, it is beyond embarrassing and I just wish it to stop,” laments Leah.

Reggae artiste Binti Afrika has gone through street harassment daily and is sure many women also have to endure it.

“I have had several experiences. And the last one involved a matatu conductor. 

I was walking down the street and he started hollering at me and catcalling. I got so irritated that I had to say something to protect myself.

I told him off, which unfortunately escalated things as he jumped off the matatu and tried coming for me. I had to run,”  she says.

Although cases are not as many, men also experience this monster of a trend.

More vulnerable 

Social specialist Fiona Atieno says street harassment is lewd behaviour and not confirmation of looks or sexuality of the victim.

“Why shouldn’t a man politely walk up to a woman and respectfully tells her she looks beautiful and then be on his way?

Why should there be a show of it?” she asks. She says when a man, mostly the guilty party, engages in this behaviour, they are usually in the company of other men and in public.

They do it to unnerve and make the woman feel even more vulnerable, as if they could be susceptible to such men. 

“When a woman encounters the same, she should just acknowledge with a simple nod or slimmest of smile, a slight wave and move on.

Do not engage or throw insults. These are basically insecure men with enough problems of their own.

These are men who can go from 0-100 in a second and the next thing they physically grab you, rip your clothes and it’s a different story. Just feed their ego, step back and be on your way,” she advises.

The sociologist also says street harassment has a lot of effects on the victims.

It makes them uncomfortable to go out in public, avoid public transport even, change clothing, fear walking alone, become hyperaware of possibility of sexual attacks upon themselves.

It can result in low self-esteem in women who frequently go through it. 

On the other hand, it can foster perceptions that objectification of women is acceptable, especially when not corrected and normalised to the  point young men end up continuing the cycle.

Good news

 Well here is some good news for you: street harassment is a crime, classified under indecent assault in the Penal Code.

This holds an equivalent penalty to rape with a sentence of 10 to 15 years in prison. 

“Men tend to prey on women because they think they are vulnerable or weaklings; this is why the law is there.

As long as you know the perpetrator and have a witness who can write a statement they will be charged in court.

The officer in charge of the case will act as your prosecution witness by doing a question and answer statement on the guilty party to determine if he did it.

Indecent assault cuts through all genders and people need to be educated about the law,” Nyali sub-county Police Commander, Daniel Masaba, says.

The police commander says two major things have contributed to increased street harassment: the rapid loss of family values including lack f morals and loss f respect for elderly people.

Second is lifestyle, especially in Mombasa, which features extravagance, constant threats of gangs, and drug abuse, among others. 

More on Lifestyle