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Local women try to buck an unchecked national trend
While some offenses stand out amongst the college crowds, there’s one that goes primarily unnoticed.
Street harassment — unsolicited physical actions and comments that remark on a person’s appearance or sexuality — typically goes legally unchecked due to a lack of street harassment statutes in Ohio. In the Athens area, however, there are growing efforts to push back against street harassment.
“Although Athens is a small town, I feel like (this) is a really big problem that’s only gotten worse over the years,” said Sarah Fick, cofounder of Hollaback! Appalachia Ohio!, a branch of the national Hollaback organization dedicated to ending street harassment.
Patty Stokes, a women’s and gender studies professor at Ohio University, said street harassment is not a new phenomenon, recalling times she was harassed while living in Berlin when she was younger.
“Some women will still say ‘this is a compliment,’” Stokes said. “But virtually every woman, if pressed, would say ‘this isn’t a compliment.’”
Street harassment, Stokes said, is perceived more as an urban problem. Susanne Dietzel, director of the Women’s Center, said the level of harassment in Athens is fairly typical.
“Street harassment and catcalling are nothing new,“ Dietzel said. “It’s an everyday practice of sexism.”
A national online survey of 811 women done by Stop Street Harassment, a nonprofit organization aimed at ending street harassment worldwide, found that 99 percent had experienced street harassment.
Hollaback! prompts people to submit their stories of street harassment, pinning them in pink on a Google map. So far, there are 11 incidents pinned on the Athens map, with locations from East State Street to Court Street.
Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said police involvement depends on what the harassers say or do, and that there’s a “very fine line between free speech and disorderly conduct.” He added that although most complaints are in regard to females receiving unwanted comments and physical contact, there have also been cases of street harassment with racial overtones.
“It could be a number of laws, such as a misdemeanor or a minor misdemeanor or disorderly conduct,” Pyle said. “It could also be considered menacing depending on what they say, how they say it, who they say it to and how it’s received.”
Athens City Councilwoman Michele Papai, D-3rd Ward, was one of the council members who opposed a balcony being present above The Over Hang, 63 N. Court St., because she knew it could be a source of street harassment on the street.
“The debate had to do with when you provide an opportunity for something, it’s likely to happen,” Papai said. “(We thought by) having a larger balcony, (there would be) behaviors we already found problematic.”
Papai’s son, Will Drabold, is the assistant campus editor for The Post.
Colleen Taylor, a senior studying political science, is taking a different approach to starting discussions about street harassment. She is working with about 20 people, all students from OU, on an art project combating rape culture.
“We want to promote awareness … about street harassment and rape culture,” Taylor said. “We’re going to be writing on people’s bodies about how rape culture affected them.”
Taylor’s current Facebook profile picture exhibits the style of the project. The picture is a pair of legs shot through a black and white filter, with “my ass is none of your concern” scrawled on her legs.
Along with the amount of street harassment stories on the Hollaback! map, green pins are also springing up, meant to symbolize stories of bystander intervention. So far, four are pinned in Athens.
As part of the Bystander Intervention program run through the Women’s Center, coordinators go to residence halls to educate both resident assistants and residents on how they can help out in sexual assault and street harassment cases.
Bill Arnold, graduate assistant for Bystander Intervention and Prevention Education, said the education programs stemming from the Women’s Center focus on “doing what you can, when you can.”
“The definite parameter is safety,” Arnold said.