Is there any legal recourse for the street harassment in this video?

Rights, News

A new PSA by the group Hollaback! gained national attention this week. The video, shot secretly with a GoPro, shows a woman walking around the streets of New York in a tshirt and jeans, and captures the slew of harassing shouts and hollers she endures during this normal daily activity. The group’s goal is to generate awareness about, and ultimately end, this type of street harassment.

We asked Avvo attorneys for the legal perspective on street harassment — and if there is any legal action victims can take beyond supporting the efforts of anti-harassment advocacy groups like Hollaback!. Read on for their answers.

Is there any legal recourse for street harassment or catcalling?

“Sexual harassment outside of the workplace has very little protection. There is a statute in California that prohibits sexual harassment that is not in the workplace, but it only applies to situations where there is a special relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, like lawyer, accountant, etc. Otherwise it is rude behavior, and the law does not, and likely will not, make rude behavior a crime or a civil offense.

The only way rude behavior passes over into a civil offense is if it reaches the point of extreme and outrageous conduct intended to cause severe emotional distress. However, that standard is a very difficult one to address. The conduct must be heinous and beyond the standards of civilized decency or utterly intolerable in a civilized society. And then, assuming you could make such a case, you would have to identify the culprit and sue them…an unlikely scenario.” — California attorney Neil Pedersen

“You may be able to report to law enforcement but best advice — ignore the idiots, it only gets them more revved up when they know it bothers you.” — Texas attorney Kevin Madison

“Unless a perpetrator has committed a criminal offense, such as an unwanted touching or has unlawfully invaded your privacy in some way, there is no legal remedy for this kind of rude or offensive behavior outside of the workplace. In some cases, where a person’s behavior reaches the level of stalking, you may be able to obtain a restraining order against the individual. But there is not much you can do other than to put these guys in their place or ignore them.” — California attorney Michael Kirshbaum

“I don’t see any damages for a civil lawsuit and highly doubt the police would get involved. There are likely First Amendment protections [for the perpetrators] too.” — New York attorney Eric Rothstein

“While I hate the type of behavior you are describing, I must agree with the other attorneys here that I do not see a case from what you have described. If anyone ever touches you, get the police involved. But until then, keep your head high and ignore the background noise.” — Indiana attorney Ashley Marks

Watch the PSA: 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman

Related Articles: