Finding Non-Criminal Solutions to Street Harassment

Here at CASS, we think that the key to ending public sexual harassment and assault is true collective action, action that values every voice — including yours — and center the experiences of the most marginalized. In our writing, workshops, and more, we encourage you to find creative, community-based solutions to make your neighborhood, school, or workplace more safe. Calling upon law enforcement is just one intervention out of many.

We think that offering this variety of interventions is empowering and effective — and the research agrees — but there’s more to it, and it’s time we made that explicit. We stand in solidarity with the many survivors and community advocates from communities of color who routinely experience harm from a legal system that perceives them as more “criminal” than others. From their work, we know that the criminal legal system perpetuates and inflicts structural and interpersonal violence against women and LGBTQGNC individuals. We share — and are working to realize — their vision of a world where we overcome the racist and sexist legacies of our nation’s criminal legal system; where individuals are held accountable for harm they cause, and justice works to restore communities instead of tearing them apart.

While developing our strategic plan over the past year, we reviewed our organizational values. And, though we have always stood against further criminalization of harassing behaviors in public, it wasn’t explicit in our original value statements. Starting now, we want to be clear about committing to working with you to find non-criminal solutions to the problem of public sexual harassment and assault. After lengthy discussions and drafting sessions, we’ve added the following statement to our organizational values:

CASS acknowledges that the criminal legal system perpetuates and inflicts structural and interpersonal violence against women and LGBTQGNC individuals, especially those who are people of color. For this reason, CASS does not support further criminalization of public sexual harassment and assault as a strategy to end public sexual violence, and encourages the community to look outside the criminal legal system to address the entrenched structural aspects of this violence. CASS also values the right of every survivor to choose the path that they feel will lead them to healing. In cases in which survivors choose to engage with the criminal legal system, CASS is committed to ensuring that its responses are survivor-centered and trauma-informed. (Emphasis added.)

This is about holding ourselves, and you, accountable for hearing every voice. Some of you may not identify with this new value. Others may find that it resonates deeply. Wherever you stand, we hope that you are with us when we say that it’s only with every voice valued and accounted for that we can address this complicated and entrenched problem. This includes the voice of the person standing on the street corner with you, the person driving the bus, the cyclist next to you, and the law enforcement officer in your neighborhood — people who share your experiences, and people who don’t.

In this same vein, we want to be clear that CASS will always support the right of every survivor to choose the path that will lead them to healing, including the choice to engage with the criminal legal system. We are committed to working alongside survivors and advocates in our community to ensure that the system’s response to these survivors is trauma-informed and survivor-centered.

Check out our organizational values to learn more, and reach out to us at info@collectiveactiondc.org with your thoughts, questions and comments.

Street Harassment, Flirting and the Law: What Do YOU Think?

Alice Reighly, President of DC's Anti-Flirt Club, which was active in the 1920s.
Alice Reighly, President of DC’s Anti-Flirt Club, which was active in the 1920s.

One-hundred and twelve years ago today (1/9/1902), New York State introduced a bill to outlaw flirting in public.

Another little known fact: DC has a long history of anti-street harassment advocacy. In the 1920s, the DC Anti-Flirt Club worked to “protect young women and girls from unwelcome attention from men in automobiles and on street corners.”

What do you think your community would be like if flirting in public were criminalized? How would “flirting” be defined, and what would be the criteria? How would flirting be distinguished from harassment? How would community interactions change? If this something you’d want to see? What would be some of the negative effects? (We can think of lots!) Let us know what you think in the comments!

DC street art by ADAPT!