Utrecht's Campaign

Against Sexual Harassment

By Anabella Villanueva | Magazine | September 27, 2022

Cover Illustration: Street Harassment. Anabella Villanueva/TheAmsterdammer

Bella Villanueva discusses sexual harassment in the streets and the protest campaign in the city of Utrecht that brought up some interesting findings. She further explores other research conducted on the topic as well as the perception of the safety of women as well as the LGBTQ+ community.

Sexual harassment can happen anywhere and is experienced by women across the world every single day. It could be as obvious as sexual assault or it could be inappropriate behavior towards a person. Catcalling is a form of sexual harassment that often occurs in public spaces. A number of men think this is merely a harmless compliment. However, this type of harassment comes from a position of power, intimidation, and objectification, whether the perpetrator is aware of it or not. At times, they justify their behavior by saying that women “ask for it” by wearing provocative clothes, blaming the victims. 

Catcalling can consist of whistles, yells, and inappropriate remarks directed at a person. Most commonly this type of harassment is directed at women of any kind of age, however, it mainly affects younger women. Sometimes, perpetrators go to the extremes of following women as they walk or insulting them for not reacting positively to their comments. Women are often catcalled on the streets, whether they are wearing revealing clothes or not. This type of sexual harassment makes most women feel uncomfortable, angry, annoyed, embarrassed, unsafe, or threatened especially if this occurs during the night in a lesser populated area. The University of Melbourne conducted a study on catcalling and they found that women are likely to experience catcalling at least once every two days. Women often have to adjust to these types of situations by dressing differently, covering their bodies, pretending they’re on the phone, walking with earphones, or taking a different route home if they notice someone is following them. 

Back in May of this year, Utrecht conducted an anti-catcalling campaign. It consisted of a big digital display that showed the mouths of women catcalling men as they walked in the city center. This campaign was conducted by the municipality of Utrecht. Municipal employees approached the men who got catcalled and asked them how they felt about it. A spokesperson for the municipality stated, “Men can be part of the solution by confronting their friends about this kind of behavior.” The goal of the campaign was to bring awareness to this type of harassment, as well as ask men to help stop this problem. RTV was also present to capture the reaction of men walking in the city while they were being catcalled. The goal of this campaign was to make people aware of the gravity of sexual harassment on the streets and in public spaces. The municipality of Utrecht made a study on this type of sexual harassment and the result was that 60% of Utrechtse women have been harassed while walking in the city. Hence, the majority of women are victims of sexual harassment in the city. Utrecht’s campaign focused mainly on women and girls, but also on other often-victimized groups like the LGBTQ+ community. Just last year, 50% of the LGBTQ+ community in Amsterdam admitted to avoiding public spaces to protect themselves from abuse based on their orientation. The CBS indicated that one in three men have experienced street harassment in 2021. 

The Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics stated that two in three women between the ages of 12 and 25 have been harassed on the street in 2020/21. It was proven that women aged 18 to 21 have been victims of street harassment more frequently and girls aged 12 or 13 the least often. Major cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht have reported that 77% of young women have been harassed on the streets in 2020/21. Street harassment is more common in cities than in rural areas. 

Research conducted by Erasmus University showed that the corona measures implemented in 2020 and 2021 led to less street harassment than usual. However, this type of harassment might increase again considering that most – if not all – COVID-19 restrictions have been dropped in the Netherlands.

Anabella Villanueva is a student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer. 

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