California Taking Legislative Steps to Be First State to Make Harassment Public Health Issue

Gavel with open book and scales on table

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.”

Kulkarni said, “By recognizing street harassment as a safety concern in our public transit systems, we are creating a critical tool to rebuild rider trust and patronage.”

About The Author

Ankita Joshi is a second-year student at the University of San Francisco, pursuing a major in International Studies and a minor in Political Science. She is originally from Sacramento, CA.

Related posts

16 Comments

  1. Alan Miller

    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

    How’d that last one get on the list?

    “Manicurists are experiencing harassment not only because of their race, gender, and nationality, but also because of their socio-economic status and workplace.

    OK, I’m not saying that isn’t the case, but isn’t that true of hundreds of job categories?

    have recently announced legislation addressing the harassment of women and other vulnerable communities

    And who could be in favor of the harassment of women and other vulnerable communities?  Therefore, since this legislation calls for . . .

      a public health approach to prevent this issue

    Then if you question that approach, you must be in favor of the . . .

    . . . harassment of women and other vulnerable communities.

    Because of course, legislation that says it takes care of something, does so just because it says it does.

    Yet, in reading the whole article searching for what this means, I still have no freakin’ idea what the freak defining . . .

     street harassment in a public health context . . .

    . . . is supposed to do.  However, the legislation also will . . .

     . . . initiate the founding of a public health campaign . . .

    And of course we’re to somehow believe a ‘public health campaign’ against racism and sexual harassment is a cure for either of these problems?  Sounds more like a slush fund for someone’s company that runs public health campaigns.  Oh but it will also fund . . .

     a study to find solutions to this issue.

    Sounds like a slush found for someone’s company (that probably gave liberally to Democratic campaigns) that does studies that purport to find solutions, generally, via studies.  But in addition . . .

    the introduction of new legislation . . .  requires California’s 10 largest transit districts to recognize “street harassment as a rider safety concern.”

    So the 11th largest transit systems on down don’t need to recognize this?  Why?

    But why a focus only on public transit?  The one time I ran into a true Jew Hater — loudly spewing hateful stereotypes about Jewish People — was at a Coffee & Tea in Long Beach.  Is racism and verbal harassment also a ‘hot beverage consumption concern’ ?  I don’t get the labeling.

    Can’t we just call these things what they are:  racism and harassment, and deal with them as crimes?  What actual good comes from labeling them as ‘health concerns’ and ‘ridership concerns’.  I sense we’re just going to keep passing laws to label them more an more obtuse things, and by extension funding politician’s donors with the legislation’s slush funds.

    Alan Miller questions this legislation, therefore Alan Miller must be for racism and harassment.  Yeah right.

    I’d say more but why bother?

    1. Alan Miller

      Someone felt the need to let me know that many manicurists are Asian, which I didn’t realize because the last time I was in a nail salon was, well, never.  And my nails show it 😐  I guess there is “Nails by Tam” in town, but that’s one shop and didn’t make me think the profession was dominated by one ‘race’.  My knowledge of manicure professionals pretty much begins and ends with Madge, who appears to be white appearing:

      Palmolive – “You’re Soaking In It” (Commercial, 1981)
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzmTtusvjR4

      I really wish someone would explain what the tie or the value is to defining this as a health or transit issue.  Now in re-reading I see that the term AAPI is used multiple times in the article, but the issue would seem to apply to racism and harassment to all races, so I’m now also puzzled as to why this legislation seems focused on a single ‘race’.

  2. Keith Olson

    Most of the sensationalized incidents of street hate or harassment against the AAPI community that have been in the media recently appear to have mostly come from black men.  Maybe that’s where these lawmakers should be concentrating their efforts.

    1. Bill Marshall

      I personally know of AAPI and/or AAPI/Latinx folk who were victims of harassment, and/or ‘hate incidents’ in the last two years… unreported to police, not in the media… it’s real… all the perpetrators were “white”… some incidents had the perps verbally mirroring a certain very high ranking official referring to Covid as the “China virus”… ’nuff said…

      1. Alan Miller

        Clearly it’s real, racism is real — people harassing Asian people about Covid-19 is real, and incredibly stupid.  Like, what does someone’s ancestor’s place of ‘origin’ have to do with the spread of a virus?  So, it says something about the perps more than anything – extremely broken people, maybe even ‘evil’.

        Your race of perps anecdotal evidence is real, as is KO’s reference to numerous violent attacks on Asian people from videos.  Racism and power dynamics is universal.  There are patterns and tendencies, but not limitations.

        I’d say more, but oh brother why bother brother?

        1. Bill Marshall

          I wonder… are racially based attacks and/or harassment like rape?  Not about sex, or racism, but more about ‘power’, feelings/senses of personal “inadequacies”, which both have much in common with ‘bullying’?

          Goes to,

          So, it says something about the perps more than anything – extremely broken people, maybe even ‘evil’.

          But an engineer, trying to connect ‘social science’/psychology dots, is truly foolish… I’ll defer to others…

          En anglais, “evil” is “live” backwards

          1. David Greenwald

            Yes and no. Racism is a manifestation of political powerlessness and scapegoatism which is why traditionally you would see racism expressed by those out of power and used by those in power to deflect.

        2. Alan Miller

           Racism is a manifestation of political powerlessness and scapegoatism which is why traditionally you would see racism expressed by those out of power and used by those in power to deflect.

          I don’t follow.  It would seem Southern slave owners and Hitler (sorry, but it fits) and the genocide of American natives would all be powerful examples of racism, all committed by people *in* power.  Am I missing your point?

        3. Alan Miller

          Southern Slave owners and Hitler had to mobilize the masses to support their power

          Joe Biden had to mobilize the masses to get elected.  Donald Trump had to mobilize the masses to get elected.

          I don’t understand what this has to do with political powerlessness being the cause of racism.

          Bill Maher had a woman on the other day named Chloe Valdary (I don’t know who she is).  She said she taught corporate race-issue classes that were not ‘Robin D’Angelo based’.  She said racism is an overcompensation for an inferiority complex.  She teaches people to understand the complexities of themselves so they don’t overcompensate and project what they don’t like about themselves onto others.  She said the traditional anti-racism approach backfires because people resent the implication and will be more likely to adopt the ideas that are prejudiced.

          1. David Greenwald

            I don’t think it causes racism, after all you can’t mobilize something that doesn’t exist. But Hitler certainly fanned the flames of anti-Semiticism to get into office, just as Trump fanned the flames of nativism to get into office.

  3. Ron Oertel

    Merriam-Webster has added to its definition of racism:

    Merriam-Webster’s current definition of racism reads:

    a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

    a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles

    a political or social system founded on racism

    racial prejudice or discrimination.

    Mitchum was both shocked and pleased when editors at Merriam-Webster replied to her concern and pledged to make a change. In the response to Mitchum, Merriam-Webster editor Alex Chambers said: “While our focus will always be on faithfully reflecting the real-world usage of a word, not on promoting any particular viewpoint, we have concluded that omitting any mention of the systemic aspects of racism promotes a certain viewpoint in itself.”

    https://www.vox.com/identities/2020/6/10/21286656/merriam-webster-racism-definition

    It seems that two things are occurring:

    1) Those with a particular point of view have “gotten to” the gatekeepers of language. (This isn’t the only example.)

    2) Those with a particular point of view (still) purposefully downplay the various definitions of racism for the purpose of downplaying it when committed by those that they view as “victim” groups. (See David’s definition above in the comment section.)

    1. Ron Oertel

      Regarding #2 above, those with a particular point of view are going to have continued problems deflecting reality.

      And will end up damaging the cause that they hold so dear.

      Purposefully hiding reality is ultimately not an effective political argument, no matter how much you succeed at changing the language.

      The SF school board recall comes to mind, regarding what ultimately occurs when you attempt to deny reality.

      As does the backlash against rising crime.

  4. Bill Marshall

    after all you can’t mobilize something that doesn’t exist.

    Ahhh… but you can sow seeds (which are inert without soil, moisture, warmth), and nurture that… is that ‘mobilize’?  I guess you can argue that the seed, soil, moisture, warmth already exist… if so, I concede your point.

    But perhaps you’re working off an old thought… “I think, therefore, I am”… the corollary would be “I believe all folk are racist, therefore, they are”… [except of course, POC’s…]

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for