By Ankita Joshi and Jaanvi Kaur
SACRAMENTO, CA – California Assemblymembers Mia Bonta (D-Oakland), Alex Lee (D-San José), Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) and Dr. Akilah Weber (D-San Diego), and sponsors to the Stop AAPI hate and the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, have recently announced legislation addressing the harassment of women and other vulnerable communities on the streets and calling for a public health approach to prevent this issue.
This legislation, the first of its kind, would define street harassment in a public health context and initiate the founding of a public health campaign as well as a study to find solutions to this issue.
Assemblymember Bonta said, “Is street harassment a serious issue? Yes, it is. Ask any woman, especially a woman of color, and you will hear about verbal harassment for doing something as simple as walking to the store or going to the park with children. This impacts our community’s sense of safety and well-being and must be addressed from a public health standpoint.”
“Everyone has a right to move freely and have a sense of peace while in public spaces, streets and sidewalks. The reality is street harassment against women and vulnerable communities is all too common and is rarely addressed by current laws. That’s why we need a robust public policy conversation on how to address this real and prevalent issue,” said Assemblymember Weber.
The data from Stop AAPI incited the creation of the “End Street Harassment” law. The coalition began collecting data nearly two years ago and has reported thousands of instances of street harassment. These include women being followed on the street and children being shouted at through the windows of passing cars.
From March 19, 2020, to June 30, 2021, more than 9,000 incidents were reported nationwide with 39 percent in California, 63 percent being reported by women, and 78 percent of the reports taking place on public streets, sidewalks, transportation, parks, or businesses.
The data reflects that women, young girls, the elderly, disabled individuals, Black, Asian, Latina, and LGBTQ+ communities are vulnerable to street harassment (including racialized or sexualized slurs, vulgar gestures, and unwelcome actions). These contribute to feelings of insecurity in public areas.
“In the two years since we began collecting data, one thing has become clear: street harassment is an epidemic — one that leaves behind an indelible mark on the individuals it touches,” said Manjusha Kulkarni, Executive Director of AAPI Equity Alliance and Co-Founder of Stop AAPI Hate.
Kulkarni added, “In reframing street harassment as a public health problem, this bill represents a novel first step in protecting women and vulnerable communities from harm and providing relief to those whose lives it has upended.”
A 2018 national study by the UC San Diego Center on Gender Equity & Health, Stop Street Harassment, and other groups found that 71 percent of women reported experiencing street harassment.
Another study by the UC San Diego Center on Gender Equity & Health, Stop Street Harassment, and other groups, reported that in California in 2019, women were more often targets of sexual harassment in public places than men, and women identifying as lesbian or bisexual experienced more sexual harassment and assault than heterosexual woman.
Lisa Fu, Executive Director of California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative states “During the pandemic our sense of safety has at times been violently disrupted. For Asian American women, women of color, LGBTQ+, elders, and other vulnerable populations, this pandemic has exacerbated the street harassment we experience in public places.”
Fu added, “Manicurists are experiencing harassment not only because of their race, gender, and nationality, but also because of their socio-economic status and workplace. Protection from harassment needs to expand beyond just the workplace and include street harassment as well.”
The “End Street Harassment” bill is one of three bills by Stop AAPI Hate and its multi-racial “No Place for Hate” campaign.
In addition to the “End Street Harassment” bill, Senator Dave Min and bill sponsor Stop AAPI Hate announced the introduction of new legislation that requires California’s 10 largest transit districts to recognize “street harassment as a rider safety concern.”
The legislation also aims to create “data-driven solutions based on the ridership experiences of women and other vulnerable communities on public transit systems.”
Transit agencies that will be included in the legislation include the Los Angeles Metro, BART, Orange County Transportation Authority, and San Francisco MUNI.
Conditions of this bill include requiring transit agencies to engage with communities who are at risk of being targets of unwanted behavior, as well as developing initiatives in response to collected data.
In a 2019 national study conducted by the University of California San Diego Center on Equity and Health, it was found that “68 percent of women experience sexual harassment in a public space, including 25 percent on mass transit.”
“In the same way that racialized and sexualized harassment on our streets and sidewalks has been normalized, so has the harassment of public transit riders,” said Cynthia Choi, Executive Director of Chinese for Affirmative Action and Co-Founder of Stop AAPI Hate. “For women and other vulnerable populations, this limits when, where, how, and whether we use a bus or train in the course of our everyday lives.”
Women of color are common targets of street harassment, with almost 50 percent of over 9,000 reports of hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders taking place at public venues, such as parks, streets, and on transit.
In support of the bill, Senator has said, “This bill will help restore confidence in the safety of public transportation so that everyone—especially women and minorities—can ride from one place to the next without fear. By gathering and aggregating information about harassment, our transit districts can take the first steps towards stopping the unwanted behavior, sexual assaults, and intimidation that afflict too many of our public transit riders.”