The female experience: An in-depth look at harassment and violence

Catherine Pigg
A&F Staff Writer
cpigg@unca.edu

Throughout a lifetime, many women will face different forms of harassment and many will live in fear of assault.

“The constant concern of sexual violence, the demeaning experience of being harassed, catcalled like a piece of meat, an object, the negative effects on women’s esteem and limiting girls’ and women’s economic and political involvement and success are among many ways harassment and sexual violence affect females,” said Marcia Ghidina, an associate professor of sociology at UNC Asheville.

One out of every six American women will be the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, according to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

Catcalling, an involuntary experience women face

“Well, my mom and I were at a store, it was summer and I was dressed in shorts. There was one old white man — he looked like he was 40 years old — who kept staring at me,” Tergel Uzmee, a 23-year-old mom said. “It made me feel very uncomfortable and insecure. I was only 13 years old at the time. He kept following me throughout the store and looking at me up and down.”

This was not her only encounter with negative attention from a man.

When Uzmee was 19 years old and first started living on her own, the young mom said she was followed by a middle-aged white male with a scruffy beard, shortly after he whistled at her.

“I had nothing on me to protect myself, I was so young too. I felt really relieved when I finally got into my car, I immediately locked the doors when I was inside,” Uzmee said.

Uzmee expresses worry over her 1-year-old daughter’s future.

“I don’t want that kind of attention on my daughter. Now I get mad when people behave that way toward me, especially when I’m with my daughter,” Uzmee said.

Catcalling, a type of verbal harassment, contributes to rape culture and can violate a person’s space and sense of safety, according to Susan Ortiz, a sociology lecturer at UNCA.

“If you think about rape culture as a triangle with sexual violence at the top, catcalling is probably closer to the bottom, but it is part and parcel of the larger systems of oppression and privilege,” Ortiz said.

According to a study by professors of psychology, Campbell Leaper and Christia Spears Brown, 67 percent of girls have been the target of  verbal harassment.

“I think it causes girls to feel sexualized and objectified and they tend to internalize those messages and then they feel more anxious about their bodies and their appearance,” said Melissa Himelein, a psychology professor at UNCA.

Catcalling relates to the maintenance of the white-supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy, according to Ortiz.

“In our society the way we set up privilege is to privilege male bodies over any other bodies and the seemingly anonymous nature of the message in a very public place,” said Heidi Kelley, an anthropology professor at UNCA.

Verbal harassment feeds into a dominant culture, a harmful message the public believes in, that this is OK behavior because some boys will be boys, according to Kelley.

“Typically cisgender men see this as their ‘right’.  They feel entitled to look and comment on women’s bodies.  We often refer to it as the male gaze.  Our society encourages men to objectify women and catcalling is part of that,” Ortiz said.

The number of sex offenses on campus stay the same while the number of stalking reports decrease

The student population grew by 5.5 percent since 2009, according to UNCA’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report. For the past six years a trend of three reported sex offenses occurred annually.

“The numbers that are reported, although they remain about the same, that doesn’t mean that these incidents aren’t occurring, that’s just the information we are able to get. Often times it goes unreported and that’s one of the big areas we want to focus on,” said Eric Boyce, chief of UNCA Campus Police.

According to  the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates 90 percent of sexual assaults go unreported.

Sometimes victim blaming occurs due to a fear of harassment or assault happening to others, said Himelein.

“Well psychologically it comes out of a place of self-protection. If I can blame that person then I know what to do, so it won’t happen to me.” Himelein said.

An advocacy group in Asheville, OUR VOICE, support victims throughout the healing process, said Boyce.

“When the person wants to pursue criminal prosecution then we would start an investigation, do a thorough investigation on it and then present the findings of our investigation to the district attorney’s office,” the chief said.

Another option for victims of sex offenses would be an internal campus investigation if filed under Title IX, according to Boyce.“It depends on what the victim wants to see happen and so they are in control of either investigation. They would pretty much share what their desires are and it would also depend on what evidence we have to present to the district attorney,” Boyce said.

Stalking decreased by 20 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to UNCA’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report.

“Stalking nowadays takes the form of cyber stalking, the person lurking around every class you go into,” Boyce said. “There’s just so many opportunities for someone to get on the internet.”

The procedures for stalking require an investigation, the results of the investigation is then brought to the District Attorney’s office, Boyce said.

“In all those cases we always sit down with the victim and then create a safety plan to let them know if you are victimized in any crime here is some of the things you can do to keep safe,” Boyce said.

UNCA provides prevention programs to fight sexual assault

Red zone is when first time students on college campuses become exposed to different risks associated with partying during the first six to eight weeks of the semester.

Programs on campus revolve around preventing negative outcomes of these situations, especially during the red zone.

“A lot of the programs that we have come out as a collaboration between university police and SAIL, Student Activities and Integrated Learning office. So that team has a long list of prevention programs that we discuss, we do a lot of red zone training,” Boyce said.

Aggressors tend to have a mindset of self-entitlement or some sort of privilege, according to Melissa Himelein, a psychology professor at UNCA.

“So there’s not really going to be any responsibility for that and certainly a more sexist kind of belief system or a belief in a power differential between males and females. More traditional views about a lack of equality between men and women,” Himelein said.

Gender roles and norms which exist in our society, may play an underlying role in violence toward women,Ghidina said .

“Gender inequality and the ways that we define gender roles where boys and men are socialized to be aggressive and in control and women are socialized to be passive and sexualized. This response alleviates responsibility for men and allows for the continuance of sexual violence toward women and patriarchy,” Ghidina said.

UNCA partners with two national campaigns to bring awareness to sexual assault happening on campus.

“April is sexual assault awareness month and so we did a tabling event over at Brown Hall, we got a little over 100 people to sign a pledge card saying that they will not be a sexual assault offender nor support sexual assault,” Boyce said.

UNCA advocacy group SPEAK UP hopes to create a campus wide environment free from sexual harassment and violence.  They meet at the Hyannis House accessible from campus.

Only two out of 100 rapists serve time in jail, according to RAINN.

“The justice system still has a long way to go in consistently punishing sexual violence. Mainly, the way we define gender roles for men and women has to change as well, toxic masculinity is at the root of rape culture and associated behaviors,” Ghidina said.

 

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