‘The Streets Are More Threatening’: Women Are Being Harassed During Lockdown

'There's no crowded bus to get on. There’s no longer those coping mechanisms that a lot of people use when they’re harassed.'

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by Harriet Kean |

‘I went out for a walk with my dog and got cat-called three times in half an hour,’ says Zoe Stromberg, who is isolating with her parents in Kent. ‘One man slowed down in his car and shouted out: "Nice arse, come self-isolate with me." Another man beeped his horn, and two male joggers ran past me saying: "You're looking nice today - where you going? You better stay indoors." I had to swerve to get away from them.’

Jen Kaarlo has also experienced harassment during isolation. ‘I have been wildly harassed outside and followed twice as well... even when it's still been light out,’ Jen explains. ‘It feels very much like a pervy, pervy world at the moment.’

Zoe and Jen are not alone; this week – which happens to be International Street Harassment Week - it was reported that many women are experiencing harassing behaviour from men during lockdown. What makes the abuse all the more alarming, Zoe says, is the lack of community and security on the streets. ‘When I've been cat-called before, I’ve gone into supermarkets or shops, because they tend to have security on the door,’ says Zoe. ‘Other times I’ve approached someone and asked for help, but now, you've got to keep your distance from people. There's no one to be an active bystander. There's no crowded bus to get on. There’s no longer those coping mechanisms that a lot of people use when they’re harassed.’

Zoe, who is an illustrator and runs the Instagram account @cutecatcalls, has been detailing women’s experiences of harassment on the streets since before the Covid-19 pandemic. She believes, however, that the streets have become ‘a lot more hostile’ after the lockdown was enforced last month. ‘I’ve already had three messages this morning, and I’m now getting around four or five stories from women each day,’ she tells me, adding that she is seeing a lot more submissions from women wearing face masks with disabilities or severe asthma. ‘They're getting harassed for overreacting in public and being told like "oh it's a bit much", or people are coughing in their faces.’ Many Asian women, Zoe explains, are also reporting racist harassment. ‘My friend who works in a supermarket was coughed at and many are reporting that people are saying they're the reason that Covid-19 is here.’

Maya Tutton, who is campaigning with her sister Gemma to make street harassment illegal (@ourstreetsnow), believes that raising awareness is now more important than ever. 'It’s been quite disturbing the number of women who have shared testimonies of harassment,' she tells Grazia. 'Not only is it scarier for women now because of the lack of witnesses, but the mental health impacts are so much greater because we’re only allowed outside once a day, and then you get harassed.’

Street harassment, Maya believes, ‘reinforces the point that we're not in this together. ‘We're not all suffering equally; when some of us go into public spaces we feel safe whereas others do not.’

To raise awareness for street harassment, OurStreetsNow is encouraging people to sign the petition – virtual workshops that teach the five ways that you can ‘step in and be an active bystander to street harassment.’

READ MORE: Expert Advice On How To Quell Your Panic As Covid-19 Builds A Storm Around You

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