This video, currently making its way around the Internet, conveys the reality of harassment that women routinely face in public space in a way that polling data, individual stories and patient lectures seldom can. In it, a woman walks silently around Manhattan for 10 hours (a hidden video camera in front of her, microphones in each hand). She is barraged the entire time by aggressive catcalls couched as compliments:
What's up beautiful?
Hey, look it there! I just saw a thousand dollars.
The video was made by Hollaback!, an anti-street harassment organization, and it captures both the tremendous discomfort of a woman in these shoes, as well as the hubris of the men around her, who seem universally uninterested in whether their attention is actually welcome.
No doubt, these men are also oblivious to the fact that what they're doing — in New York and many other states — may in some cases be illegal. New York's disorderly conduct law bars obscene language or gestures in a public place. Its harassment law bars someone from making alarming or seriously annoying comments to you at least twice (both violations: a $250 fine and/or up to 15 days in jail).
Meanwhile, in Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, it's illegal to follow people (as happens to the woman in the video twice). In the District of Columbia, it's illegal to engage in abusive language or conduct that disturbs a person's path through public space.
Last December, the organization Stop Street Harassment published a 302-page guide to state laws that may be applied to street harassers. Whether police take these complaints seriously — or whether would-be harassers even fear such laws — is another question. But here is a brief sampling:
In Alabama, it's a misdemeanor, punishable by up to three months in jail or a $500 fine, to make an obscene gesture toward someone.
In Hawaii, it's a misdemeanor for anyone to repeatedly communicate with you after you've told that person to stop (up to $1,000, 30 days in jail).
In Illinois, intimidation is a felony (up to $25,000, 2-10 years in prison), meaning a street harasser can't say, "If you don't give me your number, I'll..."
In Iowa, it's considered an assault if a street harasser does anything — following you, verbal threats — that seems intended to cause you fear of injury or offensive physical contact (even if that contact doesn't actually happen).
As should go without saying, groping, indecent exposure, and photographing unsuspecting women up their skirts or down their shirts is pretty much illegal everywhere.