Editor’s note: The Daily Lobo’s letter submission policy is to refrain from publishing anonymous letters or those submitted using pseudonyms. However, after meeting with the author in person and authenticating the author’s story, the Daily Lobo decided to break with standard policy in this case. This letter is being published anonymously.
I no longer feel safe on campus. Not because of muggings or drugs; it’s because of street harassment. I’ve been harassed many times on campus. These ranged from a drunken “I LOVE YOU!” on my way to teach a class one morning, to being catcalled while walking hand in hand with my six-year-old stepson. Recently, I was stalked as I crossed Central by a man muttering profanities inches from my ear. He proceeded to comment about my cold-hearted bitchiness to men who looked on and laughed.
You may have a knee-jerk response to these stories: I shouldn’t dress provocatively, or I shouldn’t walk around at night. But this had nothing to do with what I was wearing or doing. It occurred in broad daylight in populated areas. I was dressed how other women on campus dress. This harassment had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the men perpetrating it and the permissive culture toward it on campus.
Calling out “compliments” to women in public is not friendly behavior; it’s street harassment. StopStreetHarassment.org defines this as “Any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender or sexual orientation.” Street harassment makes women feel vulnerable and uncomfortable in public. Long term effects can include depression, anxiety, PTSD, and limitation of income, mobility and public engagement, according to iHollaback.org.
On college campuses, street harassment limits women’s access to education and university resources. This decreases the productivity of our whole community. The women training for their future, teaching our classes, grading our papers and running our university face this threat every single day.
Street harassment is illegal in New Mexico. Harassment (Chapt. 30, Article 3A §2), Disorderly Conduct (Chapt. 30, Article 20 §1) and Public Nuisance (Chapt. 30 Article 8 §1) laws all forbid verbal street harassment. Flashing, following, groping, etc. are also illegal. However, these laws are not being enforced. Though harassment occurs frequently on campus, UNMPD reported harassment only twice in the last year. Police need to patrol areas where harassment occurs frequently and arrest offenders.
What can you do to help? Say anything! If you see harassment taking place, step in. Stand up to the harasser, talk to the victim, or cause a distraction. Even a significant glance to the victim can decrease the sense of isolation that harassment causes. Bystander intervention is the most effective way to end street harassment. Report harassment to the police. Call 911 (APD) or 277-2241 (UNMPD) and report a crime in progress. If you are being harassed, get to a safe space and then call the police.
Students and faculty can’t defend ourselves from harassers. We can’t bring pepper spray or dogs with us to campus. And, we shouldn’t have to. We shouldn’t have to worry about our safety while we are trying to learn. Making day-to-day life safe for women on this campus needs to be a priority for UNMPD, the administration and the campus community.