Street Harassment Can Land You 12 Years in Jail in This Country

March 12th 2015

Laura Donovan

Street harassment is an abominable phenomenon that impacts women all over the world, and Peru isn't tolerating it any longer. The country just passed a law that could put catcallers in jail for up to 12 years, a bold move that's sure make men of think twice before spouting unsolicited, gross remarks at ladies. 

While many women would agree this is going to prevent unwanted sexual attention in daily situations such as walking to work and grabbing a cup of coffee down the block, not everyone is happy about the change. Lawyer Luis Lama Puccio seems to think the line between glancing at someone and harassing her might be blurred as a result of the new rule. "How can you tell if a look or a whistle is being done with sexual intent?" Puccio asked El Comercio. But if this forces men to have a moment of pause before objectifying a woman, that's not such a bad thing. 

The decision came weeks after Peruvian video Whistling At Your Mom ("Silbale a tu madre" in Spanish) went viral online. The fake documentary, which is scripted, to be clear, depicts men accidentally catcalling their mothers on the streets of Peru. The video was created to spread word about the problem of street harassment. Though the people in the clip are actors, the company behind the PSA said that "many of the male subjects had indeed once or twice 'catcalled' by mistake one of their female family members, making them feel profoundly embarrassed about the situation."

“Don’t wait until we make you harass your own mother before you start respecting women,” Olympic volleyball player Natalia Málaga says at the end of the clip. The "Silbale a tu madre" movement began after Peruvian actress Magaly Solier had a horrific experience with sexual harassment on a bus. While using public transportation, a man directly behind her started masturbating and nobody called him out.

Of course, street harassment could never be banned in the U.S. because of the First Amendment, but people in powerful positions could do more to condemn it and not diminish the feelings of violation many women experience thanks to cat callers. Also, it's not a compliment, and women shouldn't be told they're ungrateful for not appreciating the attention. Last year, anti-street harassment organization Hollaback! teamed with Rob Bliss Creative to produce a video titled "10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman," which shows a young lady being bombarded with perverse, unsolicited remarks from passersby as she moves through the big city. The video, which received nearly 40 million views, was intended to show men the frequency and crudeness of street harassment:

The clip resonated with women all over, especially in New York City where everything is so close together and simply crossing the street as a female can be degrading thanks to tactless street harassers who can't keep their thoughts to themselves. The video also faced backlash for mostly including men of color harassing the woman, whose name is Shoshana. 

"I did at the end of the video make it clear that we had people of all backgrounds who catcalled because I felt this might come up," Bliss said in an interview with Bustle. "[T]hose two guys that follow Shoshana [in the video] make up literally half of the video, and because by chance, they were black, now half of the video is showing black guys. That just only further demonstrates how statistically inaccurate something like this is, and how it shouldn’t be taken so literally. What if they were two Russians, or Japanese guys? Would we be saying that Russians make up half of all catcallers? That’s the problem with drawing too much from this video. It was just one girl’s 10 hour experience, composed of 18 different scenes."

Though valid, the backlash took away from the greater message, which is that street harassment is a degrading, totally sexist, humiliating part of our culture. At least Peru's viral video had a strong enough affect on lawmakers to tell catcallers once and for all that their behavior is inappropriate. Next time a catcalling story or video grips the U.S., perhaps it can inspire a lasting conversation about what women go through and not get buried as Bliss and Hollaback!'s video did.