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No safe place : the legal regulation of street harassment Oshynko, Norma Anne

Abstract

Street harassment, or the verbal and non-verbal behaviours, gestures or comments that men make to women they do not know in public places, is extremely disturbing to some women. Although it affects women of different social locations in different ways, it is generally accepted that street harassment harms women. Not only does it teach men and women that women are to be afforded less respect in public, it reminds women that they exist as sexual objects to serve men. Street harassment can cause women to feel insecure in public places, resulting in an informal system of ghettoization. Many feminists feel that street harassment can best be understood as an integral part of a system of sexual terrorism which allows men to dominate and control women. Street harassment wreaks havoc on its individual victims (that is, the women who feel fear, rage and disgust) and on women as a group. The fact that our legal system fails to address the problem of street harassment is indicative of a disturbing trend in law: incidents that harm only women are often ignored or trivialized. In this thesis, I seek to determine if we should create a criminal law that would prohibit street harassment. After examining the impact that street harassment has on women of different social locations, I study the way current laws fail to address this form of sexual terrorism. I conclude that there are several drawbacks to regulating street harassment using the law. However, despite the practical difficulties and the concerns of civil libertarians and feminists, it is imperative to criminalize street harassment. Until our society uses law to condemn street harassment, it will be a socially acceptable practice that is trivialized and ignored.

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