Sexual harassment at University must be immediate priority

Last week, the anti-sexual harassment organization Hollaback! released a 4-minute video exposing stalking and cat calling on the streets of New York City. The video went viral across the Internet, gaining over 30 million views and counting. 

At Rutgers alone, undergraduate women have been sharing the video throughout the week with their friends, family and co-workers. Indeed, from Facebook to tumblr, these women have been noting something important: Cat calling is not unique to New York City, but happens quite frequently at Rutgers and in New Brunswick.

According to the anti-street harassment advocacy group Stop Street Harassment, approximately 65 percent of all women have experienced some form of street harassment in their lifetime. The study found that 23 percent had “been sexually touched,” 20 percent “had been followed,” and 9 percent “had been forced to do something sexual” or sexually assaulted on the street. Twenty-five percent of all men also experienced some form of street harassment in their lives, and the report notes “a higher percentage of LGBT-identified men than heterosexual men reported [street harassment].” Not only is sexual harassment a serious concern, but it’s an epidemic issue: Over one-half of all women have experienced sexual harassment, and one-fourth of all men can also attest to being sexually harassed in their lives.

Statistically speaking, this is a particularly large number among the Rutgers student body. On the University’s official Facts & Figures page, Rutgers notes that the University hosts 32,280 undergraduate students, and that 49 percent of all undergraduates are women. This leaves us with approximately 15,817 women undergraduate students at Rutgers. If we then take Stop Street Harassment’s study and compare their percentages with our undergraduate statistics, we find:

3,637 female undergraduates have been sexually touched

3,163 female undergraduates have been stalked

1,423 have been sexually assaulted on our streets

20,982 undergraduate women have been street harassed in their lifetime

For a frame of reference, that’s a little over half the maximum attendance number at High Point Solutions Stadium.

But even then, statistics rarely personalize the sheer invasiveness of sexual harassment at Rutgers. Understanding sexual harassment is not just simply about statistics and numbers — it’s about the stories and experiences of our University’s students. We cannot discuss sexual harassment without discussing the embodied, lived experiences of Rutgers’ women.

While I was preparing for Halloween last week, I stumbled across a Facebook post made by my good friend and co-editor at TRIM Magazine, Hannah Gerber. Gerber has repeatedly experienced sexual harassment in New Brunswick, and she decided to speak out about it on her timeline. Here’s her post, verbatim:

“After being catcalled for the THIRD TIME in BROAD DAYLIGHT walking DOWN MY OWN STREET, I looked the guy dead in the eyes that whistled at me and said “Seriously?!” to which he got embarrassed, tried to look at his friend and pretend it wasn’t him that did it. When I kept giving him the death-glare, he looked at me and shrugged as if to say, ‘What do you want me to do?’ Not that the level of respect I’m given should be dependent on the time of day, what I’m wearing, or how I’m presenting myself, but I’m wearing jeans and a f---ing tshirt, dude. Grow up and f--- off.”

“To clarify, this was the third time TODAY,” she continues. “It’s happened to me on our street before.”

Gerber notes how this is the third time on her own street, merely a block or two from Douglass campus, in which a man has sexually harassed her. Hannah was objectified and harassed three times within 12 hours. Certainly, this is not the first time Hannah has experienced harassment at Rutgers. Yet one time is more than enough for any Rutgers woman to experience.

Whether on or off campus, Hannah is still at risk of being harassed by strangers — some of which provide basic utility needs for her own house, on her own doorstep.

At Rutgers, Hannah is certainly not alone. Over 20,000 women have been in similar situations at least once. 

When we ignore misogynistic harassment, we are critically failing those thousands of women. We are leaving men and women like Gerber vulnerable to sexual harassment, and we are helping to perpetuate this problem when we ignore it.

We need to end this kind of sexual harassment now. Not just for our current students, but for our future students. Otherwise, Rutgers can never call itself a safe college in good faith.

Philip Wythe is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in English with a minor in political science. Their column, “Nothing, if Not Critical,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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