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Sexual harassment in Australia and the US

  • 18 July 2017


Recently I spent six months studying in Melbourne. I'm a relatively tall, 19 year old Californian: light brown hair, athletic build, lucky enough to be classified in the societal definition of beauty (at least on Tinder).

While in Melbourne, I lived in Carlton, spending most of my time in the CBD and the eastern suburbs where a cousin of mine resided. I frequented Melbourne Central, Queen Vic Market, Sister Bella and Chapel Street, where I had a bi-weekly gymnastics class. Generally, I walked alone to and from all these places.

Coming from California and the States in general, I've had my fair share of street harassment. I'm 100 per cent prepared to hit my attacker with a throat punch, key to the eye, knee to the crotch or elbow to the stomach.

It doesn't matter that under the California Penal Code 'an individual who solicits anyone to engage in or who engages in lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view' is charged with a misdemeanour. The laws against street harassment are not enough to discourage American men from catcalling, from gathering on the sidewalk and blocking women from passing, from following women or from physically grabbing women, at least in my own experience.

Victoria (and most other Aussie states) have similar street harassment laws: Section 17 of the Summary Offences Act 1966 (VIC) states that it is a criminal offence to use 'profane indecent or obscene language or threatening abusive or insulting words' in or near a public place or within the view or hearing of any person in a public place. For my first few weeks in Australia, it seemed to me that Aussie men were more law-abiding than American men. I had been completely left alone, and felt more confident because of it.

Then came the day I walked from Carlton to Melbourne Central at 11am, in broad daylight and only on busy streets (I was feeling safe but still wasn't about to be stupid). I'm minding my own business, walking quickly and consistently glancing at my phone to make sure I'm still following the path Google Maps laid out for me.

At one point, I glance up and see a group of six builders, three conveniently placed on either side of the sidewalk. I can't cross the street without running into cars and I can't go around them. I'm left