98 percent of women report street harassment

CNN, by way of LifeWire, reports on survey by Holly Kearl, a former graduate student at George Washington University, on street harassment or “catcalling,” and the results depress:


[Kearl] found that 98 percent of respondents experienced some form of street harassment at least a few times, and about 30 percent reported being harassed on a regular basis.


The number surprised me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true, though I call into question Kearl’s methods.  The “study” only informally surveyed 225 people by email. That figure seems rather too small to produce any meaningful population representation—if Mss. Kearl is even looking for quantitative results.

Also, the survey was done anonymously by email. I would think—Speaking as someone with no data-mining or psychology qualifications working off pure speculation—voluntary response surveys might skew results towards neutral or even positive responses to harassment, a few of which the article quotes. Someone deeply affected by harassment would seem to be not in the best of places to answer questions about it for a stranger over the Internet, possibly the most unaccountable of mediums. 


But even if figures are inflated (or underreported) or reactions skewed, or the reporting framed under a dismissive headline, talking about street harassment seems the best thing to do about it. Women know they are not alone, but in fact in good company.


Also, is anyone else surprised to find CNN has file photos of a gang of men ogling a semi-scantily-clad woman just lying around on hand?


Note: Kearl’s correction to misunderstandings and replies to my criticisms here.

            —Bento, 5/15/08  


2 Responses

  1. Hi this is Holly Kearl and I just wanted to clarify what CNN didn’t, that my survey wasn’t meant to be representative of the larger population. I specifically targeted people I thought would be feminists and thereby might know about anti-street harassment websites like the HollaBacks. That was more what my thesis focused on – how were people responding to and combating street harassment, and did they use these websites? I sent the survey to women’s studies listservs and other feminist groups, so I knew the data was skewed and stated that in my thesis when I talked about the data from my survey. The survey was just one component of how I gathered data. Most of my data came from reading 706 postings on 6 anti-street harassment websites which offered me voluntarily given, first-hand accounts of how people had been harassed, how they reacted, and how they used the websites. In the survey, asking people if they had been harassed was a side question to the ones I was more interested in – how did people respond and what did they think of the hollaback websites (did they even know about them etc) – and the information about how many people had been harassed warranted two sentences in my 129 page thesis.
    I have some more information on my website http://www.hkearl.com/thesis.
    It’s been hard having the large scope of my thesis reduced to a few sentences put in a context not of my choosing with a headline and photo I would never have chosen either. But as you note, it is getting people talking, so that’s a good thing.

  2. I can personally attest to street harassment being a norm in my life. I hate it, but I’m learning ways to deal with it. Usually I just shout “fuck you” while flippin the bird, but I’m thinking I might start carrying around pamphlets about why street harassment is bad– that *just might* throw the harassers for a loop. We shall see…

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