New Study Finds High Prevalence of Street Harassment – Here’s What You Can Do To Stop It

Groundbreaking new study on street harassment released today

Groundbreaking new study on street harassment released today.

A national study released today by our friend and former board member Holly Kearl is the first to quantify the prevalence and harm done by street harassment in our nation. Combined with the innumerable stories shared on the #YesAllWomen hashtag, providing a clear picture of the emotional impact of entitlement and aggression perpetrated across the spectrum of violence, street harassment conversations are entering the mainstream and finally — hopefully — being taken seriously.

And importantly, victims of public sexual harassment and assault are learning that they are in the company of a majority of Americans: 65% of women and 25% of men. To me, as someone who talks about these issues often and is always answered by strikingly similar stories (“I was on the subway, trying to get home, when a guy”…;”I was standing on the street corner, and out of nowhere…”; “I feel like I’m running the gauntlet every day…”), these numbers seem low.

Holly’s report confirms a number of things about street harassment that CASS has been teaching people in the DC area for over five years:

  • It starts early: Holly finds that 50% of women and men who experienced harassment were first harassed before the age of 17 — even as early as 11 or 12.
  • It’s a human rights issue: Men who identified as LGBT were more likely to report harassment than men who identified as heterosexual, showing that harassment is a gender issue writ large.
  • It’s not just “street” harassment: Respondents reported being harassed in stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and public transportation.
  • It threatens our safety and affects our lives: A majority of respondents who experienced harassment said they were concerned it would escalate into physical violence. And many said they constantly assess their surroundings, travel only in groups, or even move neighborhoods or change jobs to avoid it.
  • It reflects other inequalities: People of color, people from low-income communities, and people identifying as LGBTQ were disproportionately impacted by street harassment overall.

The study is an incredible addition to the body of knowledge around street harassment and a powerful argument that this problem deserves the attention of communities across the country. We congratulate Holly and all of Stop Street Harassment for their important work. While many questions are left to be addressed in future studies, one in particular resonates with us: what are we going to do about it?

Our answer? Collective action! With a problem so big, so normalized, so highly prevalent, and so damaging to individuals and the neighborhoods they live and work in, the only sustainable solution is community-driven culture change. This means that everyone, regardless of status or identity, has a part to play in ending street harassment. Indeed, it takes a village to build a community where people of all backgrounds, gender expressions or identities, and experiences can feel safe occupying public spaces.

Thousands of people here in the nation’s capital have already undertaken the daunting task of culture change, and at CASS we have witnessed first-hand the power we have when we take collective action. Here are some examples:

After mobilizing the community to show policymakers that sexual harassment on public transit is a serious problem, CASS has worked with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to implement policies and programming to prevent sexual harassment and assault on DC’s public transit system.

CASS holds innovative workshops to empower the community to take action to prevent public sexual harassment and assault, challenging harmful social norms that propagate gender-based violence and developing concrete skills to respond to street harassment on both an individual and community level. So far, we’ve trained hundreds of new anti-harassment activists all over DC.

Bar staff should be at the front lines of sexual violence prevention, but businesses are typically overlooked as stakeholders in culture change. Safe Bars, a project of CASS and Defend Yourself, trains and empowers staff at alcohol-serving establishments to recognize and respond to incidents of sexual harassment and assault among patrons and staff.

CASS’s blog provides a platform for personal stories of gender-based public sexual harassment and assault DC, documenting the issue and building a community dedicated to its prevention.

CASS is a founding member of the DC Justice for Survivors Campaign, which, in an unprecedented survivor-led effort, successfully pushed for wide-ranging changes in the way DC police handle sexual assault complaints. We continue to facilitate spaces for survivors to engage with the systems meant to serve them.

Too often, the solution to keeping yourself safe from harassment and assault put forth by authorities and policymakers is to limit your movements at night or take private transportation. But this fails to protect people who can’t make those changes for economic or other reasons. We are raising funds to implement a program called RightRidesDC, which will provide safe, free late-night rides home to women and LGBTQGNC individuals on weekends.

The best solutions to ending street harassment are the ones that you haven’t thought of yet. Check out Stop Street Harassment’s groundbreaking new study — and then go out into your neighborhood and take action!

Recommended Reading:

7 Steps You Can Take To Address Street Harassment
5 Excuses for Street Harassment We Need To Stop Making…Now
Statistics: Here’s Why Street Harassment is a Big Deal

BREAKING: DC Council Passes Landmark Sexual Assault Reforms With Final Vote

DC Justice for Survivors Campaign (DC JSC)

May 6, 2014


Contact: Renee Davidson
DC Justice for Survivors Campaign (DC JSC) 

Landmark Legislation to Protect Survivors of Sexual Assault Passes Final Vote
Success Comes After Year of Grassroots Organizing

Washington, D.C. — The DC Justice for Survivors Campaign (DC JSC) is elated that today DC Council cast the final of two votes to pass the Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (SAVRAA), landmark legislation to improve how the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) manages sexual assault cases and treats survivors of sexual assault.

The passage of the Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Amendment Act comes over a year after the DC JSC, a survivor-led grassroots coalition, was established in response to evidence of police mismanagement of sexual assault cases in the District. The pivotal legislation, called SAVRAA, includes all criteria for which the DC JSC mobilized support, including: 1) Granting sexual assault survivors the right to have a sexual assault victim advocate present during hospital forensic exams and in subsequent in-person police interviews; 2) Mandating the prompt processing of rape kits; 3) Providing sexual assault survivors the right to the results of their rape kits and toxicology tests; 4) Mandating that an independent consultant make semi-annual public reports on progress that MPD makes in implementing reforms; 5) Codifying DC’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) and requires it to conduct case review; 6) Requiring an annual report on sexual assault from agencies that handle cases and evidence; 7) Establishing a task force to recommend further reform to the system, including additional roles for advocates, an effective system for complaints and juvenile sexual assault system reforms.

The long-awaited passage of SAVRAA is a monumental step both in supporting survivors of sexual assault and improving DC’s sexual assault response system. “This legislation means that those who report sexual assault in the District can expect that their cases will be followed through as efficiently as possible, and that they will be treated with fairness and respect,” said Sherelle Hessell-Gordon, DC JSC organizer and Executive Director of the DC Rape Crisis Center. “This was a survivor-driven advocacy effort, and we thank the brave men and women who testified and shared their stories in order to achieve today’s success,” added DC JSC organizer Marisa Ferri.

The Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Amendment Act will now be passed onto the Mayor to be signed into law.


Formed by Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS), the DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC) and National Organization for Women, DC Chapter (DC NOW), the DC Justice for Survivors Campaign (DC JSC) is a grassroots coalition of sexual assault survivors, direct service providers, advocacy organizations, allies and community members working to increase and codify the rights of and improve services for survivors of sexual assault in the District of Columbia.

What Exactly Does Uber’s New “Safe Rides Fee” Do? Not Enough.

Ask a straight, cisgender man what he does when he prepares to leave the house. Odds are, he will be at a loss for how to answer. For those that rarely feel the threat of sexual violence on the street, safety is often not on their radar. Try asking the same question to a woman or an LGBTQ-identifying individual, however, and you’ll likely be treated to an exhausting laundry list of safety measures: double-checking outfits, planning out alternative walking routes, maybe even packing a weapon like mace — and so much more. Folks who don’t regularly experience sexual harassment on the street get to decide where to go and how to get there based on convenience and cost. But for women and LGBTQ folks, these considerations are often in conflict with a need to stay safe — which takes up an incredible amount of energy and can end up unfairly costing them – not only in money, but also in time and energy.

That’s why it really bugged us when we heard the recent news from CASS supporter @mcbyrne that transportation company Uber will start levying a $1 “safe rides fee” for trips on UberX, the company’s rideshare service.

Why would a company — especially one that likely gets ample business from those concerned with their personal safety — put an additional price tag on our freedom from assault? How does it solve the harassment and assault perpetrated by Uber drivers themselves? We reached out to Uber DC, and here’s what they told us about the new “safety” fee –

According to Uber reps, the fee will sustain Uber’s existing safety measures, which include background checks on drivers, insurance on Uber trips and basic driving training. The new fee will also help build a pool of resources for additional safety measures to implement in the future, like a Kitestring-like feature for the Uber app. When we asked about Uber’s policy on harassment by drivers, we were told that anyone accused of harassing behavior is let go. We truly appreciate the time and energy of the Uber DC rep who spoke to CASS and listened to our suggestions, and we’re glad that they’re investing in driver and passenger safety.

This isn’t the first time that CASS has spoken with Uber reps about issues of sexual harassment and assault by drivers.

In December 2012, reports arose that a young DC woman had been raped by her Uber driver (in this case, a black car driver). By the spring, her case had been dropped. During this time period, CASS reached out to Uber to encourage the company to respond to this assault and — most importantly — to implement plans to prevent similar incidents. We had a lengthy conversation with Uber reps, in which we pitched productive community responses like facilitating an informative tweet chat on the company’s safety measures or training Uber drivers and staff on sexual violence prevention.

Ultimately, our call this week with Uber revealed that — despite its new safety fee — not much has changed about how the company trains its staff or deals with sexual harassment complaints.

In our work on transit issues, CASS has emphasized that culture change is the key to ensuring safe transportation for women and LGBTQ individuals. When it comes to Uber, firing individual drivers may cure the symptoms, but not the cause: the unmet need for preventive training regarding sexual harassment and assault. The Uber rep that CASS spoke with said that the company hardly ever receives reports of sexual harassment or assault by drivers. When you’re dealing with the most underreported crime in the country, a low number of reports is not the best indicator of progress. Often, it’s a sign that victims don’t feel empowered to speak up.

Rather than offering a misleading “safety” surcharge, what about actually increasing passenger safety in the present? We think Uber should do more.

Here’s where you come in. Fill out the survey below to tell us what you think Uber should do to prevent sexual harassment by Uber drivers. If you’ve been harassed in an Uber, let us know anonymously by sharing your story.

Dear Washington Times: Rape Is Never An Acceptable Metaphor!

Dear Washington Times: Rape Is Never An Acceptable Metaphor!

Dear Washington Times: Rape Is Never An Acceptable Metaphor!

In a column on proposed high-occupancy toll lanes on DC roadways, Washington Times columnist Deborah Simmons used rape to describe what she says officials are doing to the “common city dweller.”

“We at CASS feel strongly that rape is never an acceptable metaphor. Sexual assault is a tragic crime that affects tens of thousands of men and women each year, including in ways that most of us cannot begin to imagine. Equating rape with higher taxes is not only a disservice to victims, but also a danger to the community in diluting the gravity of this tragic crime. Here in D.C., CASS has worked for over a year to help pass legislation to thwart the trivialization and normalization of sexual assault, which routinely happens at the hands of police, the criminal justice system and — as Simmons’ article shows — the media and popular pundits. We hope that Simmons and the Times think twice and remove the offensive line. It is only by dedicating ourselves to speaking about sexual assault in accurate and articulate terms that we change our culture in ways to prevent it.”

Read the full story at DCist.

P.S. Want to help? Take to Twitter!

“Dear @WashTimes: Rape Is Never An Acceptable Metaphor! #vaw #SAAM #endrape cc @safespacesDC”

Thank You, CASS Community!

Happy National Volunteer Week!

As you know, CASS is volunteer-run nonprofit. This week, we send an especially HUGE thanks to the DC community members that volunteer their time to make our work possible! This includes the over 400 community members that signed onto join the DC Justice for Survivors Campaign (DC JSC), which yesterday succeeded in helping pass landmark sexual assault reforms in DC.

We’re so proud! Thank you to all the volunteers that support us. We couldn’t do this work without you!