Girls Get Catcalled at a Younger Age Than You Might Think

When a woman turns 18, a magic switch doesn’t get flipped that alerts the world that she’s now of legal age to be subjected to street harassment. As the stomach-turning responses to #firstharassed, a Twitter hashtag that went viral over the weekend, reveal, young girls are often on the receiving end of rude, sexually graphic comments and inappropriate touching.

The hashtag was started late last week by Chicago-based activist and author Mikki Kendall. She shared her own experience with harassment by an older man and asked her followers what their experiences have been.

I was 10 years old when I was #firstharassed amp it was a much older man. How many of us were children preyed on by adults?

mdash Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) May 28, 2015

In response, women began tweeting disturbing stories of being bothered as little girls walking to church or to the candy store, stopping at a gas station during a family road trip, or in their homes.

12 on a road trip. 2 Guys at a gas station cat called, groped their privates and made boob comments. Grandma gave them hell #FirstHarassed

mdash hamster253 (@HammackShaina) May 31, 2015

I was #firstharassed at age 9. Walking to the store for candy w/my cousin. Men honked and offered us rides b/c we were quottoo pretty to walkquot

mdash Lauren M. (@AngryWriterGirl) May 28, 2015

I was about 8 when i was #firstharassed. Walking to from the corner store to church. Grown men.

mdash Keidra (@kdc) May 28, 2015

#FIRSTHARASSED at age 12. My late 30-something neighbor cornered me in a room and kept saying, quotYou#39re SO pretty. Do you have a boyfriend?quot

mdash Hailey Zorrozua (@hzorrozua) June 1, 2015

So, Why Should You Care? The stories being shared aren’t unusual, according to the results of a survey released last week by Cornell University and anti–street harassment group Hollaback! According to the findings, the majority of women around the globe first experience street harassment between the ages of 11 and 17. In the United States, a full 85 percent of respondents said they first experienced being harassed—catcalled or physically groped—before they turned 17.

Street harassment can make women feel frightened and unsafe, which has emotional and physical consequences. A full 72 percent of U.S. women who responded to the survey reported taking alternative transportation because of harassment. But young girls who may rely on public transportation or have to walk to and from school have no way of avoiding unwanted attention from men. That can lead to feelings of low self-esteem—girls may begin thinking they’re doing something to cause the harassment.

Hollaback! was behind last fall’s viral video showing a woman’s experience being catcalled 108 times in 10 hours as she walked around New York City. Critics noted that the video seemed to disproportionately portray black and Latino men as harassers, and that it did not reflect the experience of women of color. For this latest survey, however, the researchers received responses from 16,607 women living in 42 cities around the world, making it the largest international, cross-cultural analysis on street harassment ever conducted.

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