Catching catcallers
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - August 15, 2019 - 12:00am

A friend of mine in her late 50s told me she once walked with her daughter in a busy street in Manhattan, past a building where men were doing construction works. There was a sudden hush, then a collective whistling.  My friend, still looking sharp even with a size 18 body, looked up, but one man said, “Not you, at your daughter.” That unmade my friend’s day.

For sure, women, young and matronly, appreciate signs of appreciation. When a male friend whistles at your nice looks, you say thanks. But when the whistle is sexually suggestive, and paired with oogling and lip-smacking, that’s a different story, the whistler is  in trouble. As an Internet definition puts it, whistling or yelling is often used by sexually frustrated males as a way of getting attention from females; it is not a recommended method of flattering someone.

Men with some education and exposed to media, know that wolf-whistling,  catcalling, and telling of sexual jokes, is punishable under the Safe Spaces Act or Republic Act No. 11313, which was signed into law July 16, 2019.  I am not sure if small town guys are aware of this law, and if told about it will simply laugh their heads off.  It behooves civic organizations, like the Rotary Club of Gingoog City, to hold informative activities if it has any, to educate Gingoognons, men and women, about this law.  This is a challenge for newly elected Rotary Club president and City Kagawad Thad Lugod. 

Thank you Zonta Club of Makati for launching the #He4She Stop Teenage Pregnancy & Early Marriage Campaign on Aug.  23  which  is a relaunch by Zonta Makati Ayala of the UN Womens’ global campaign to commit to gender equality and to respect “Safe Space” for women and girls.The relaunch is set for Aug. 23 at the Dusit Thani, Makati City. 

The Zonta Club of Makati Ayala is a 30-year-old organization committed to uplift the status of women and girls.

The Safe Spaces Act  was principally authored and sponsored by Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros in the Senate, and Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin in the House.

The Safe Spaces Act is  an expansion of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, passed during Sen. Edgardo J. Angara, Senate president, and Jose de Venecia Jr. Speaker of the House of Representatives. This law punishes sexual harassment in the workplace and  education or training environment. This mainly pertains to sexual favor made as a condition in the hiring  of individuals, and penalizes violators with imprisonment of not less than one month nor more than six months, or a fine of not less than P10,000, nor more than P20,000.

The new law is harsher, rightfully so. The offenses are cursing, catcalling, wolf whistling, leering and intrusive gazing, taunting, unwanted invitations, misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic and sexist slurs, persistent unwanted comments on one’s appearance, relentless requests for personal details such as name, contact and sexual media details or destination,  use of words, gestures, or actions that ridicule on the basis of sex, gender or sexual orientation, persistent telling of sexual jokes, use of sexual names, comments and demands, any statement that has made and that intrudes into a  person’s personal space or personal safety.

The penalties: at the first commission, violators will be fined P1,000 and made to serve 12 hours in community service, including attendance in a gender sensitivity seminar; second time offenders will be jailed for six to 10 days or fined P3,000, while third-time offenders will be jailed 11 to 30 days and fined P10,000.

The law benefits not only women, but men, too, and members of the LGBTQ community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Unidentified  gender), who are generally subjected to sexual harassment and insults.

Now, the $64 question: Can President Duterte be charged, fined, and sent to jail for his perceived  gender insensitivity in  using  foul language?  No sir, madame, the President,  as Presidential Spokesman  Salvador Panelo would quickly say, is only telling jokes. Besides, he cannot be charged for offenses allegedly committed during his incumbency. 

Sen. Risa Hontiveros calls the law “Bawal Bastos”. Openly critical of the language used by the President, she hopes, according to a Rappler story, that with the law, “our citizens  will feel braver, will speak with louder voices to call out anyone in public spaces, even the most powerful someone in the highest public space, the Office of the President.”

Catcalling is global problem deeply related to sexism, gender violence and homophobia, writes Elizabeth King of Chicago. According to  her, research from street-harassment activist group Hollaback and Cornel University, catcalling is primarily targeted at women and perpetrated by men. A 2014 survey revealed that 71 percent of women experience street harassment for the first time between the ages of 11 and 17, and more than 50 percent of women have been fondled or grouped on the street. Writes King: “Street harassment is a dangerous public issue: Publicly and repeatedly objectifying women creates an unsafe environment, which can and does turn violent. It’s not uncommon for women to be harassed or stalked n public by men who later commit violence against them, including rape and murder.”

Street harassment being a global problem, its treatment socially and legally varies across cultures. 

According to Thomson Reuters Foundation, French authorities have fined more than 700 men for harassing women in public places since the introduction of a law a year ago to stop cat calls, lewd comments and gestures. Those breaking the law face potential on-the-spot fines of up to 50 euros ($839) or 1,500 euros if there are aggravating circumstances such as the victim is under 15. “Predatory remarks and wolf-whistles  are fairly commonplace in France. The law, introduced as part of tougher legislation to fight sexual violence, penalizes sexist or sensual words or behavior that are hostile, degrade, humiliate or intimidate.

 Sexual harassment and catcalling have been illegal in Belgium since April 2014. According to Hollaback! And Cornell, 75 percent of Belgian women experienced street harassment for the first time before the age of 17, and almost very woman surveyed had been verbally harassed in public. Violation of the law is punishable by a fine of up to one year in prison.

 Street harassment only became illegal in Portugal last August. It was previously illegal in the workplace, but now Portuguese law dictates that it is illegal to sexually harass women in the streets. Those found guilty can face up to one year in prison, or up to three years if the victim is younger than 14 years old.

Canada finds persons punishable if they feel the victim feels harassed by their conduct.

 New Zealand’s 1981 Summary Offences Act states that anyone who “uses any threatening or insulting words and is reckless whether any person is alarmed or insulted by those words  can be fined up to $1,000. Minnesota and Wyoming have similar laws that ban verbal harassment, groping and upskirt photos.

In the United States, street harassment laws depend on the state. Types of harassment punishable by law and the punishments themselves vary. For example, in New York, street harassment can lead to a $250 fine.

Writes Elizabeth King: “While laws against street harassment are vital, punishments alone won’t end the epidemic of public abuse against women. Sexism is not a problem that can be legislated out of existence.

The global community, King writes, “needs to take additional steps towards educating the public about why verbal sexual abuse is so harmful, before sexual harassment will be gone for good.”

* * *

Sillimanians in Metro Manila (SIMM) is holding a fellowship dinner on  Aug. 17, as its contribution to the celebration of the founders day of Silliman University. Venue is  the Philippine Army Officers Clubhouse, the Patio, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig. Guest speaker will be  Atty. Jesus Clint Aranas.

Ticket price is P750 per person; discounted price for alumni of batches 2015 to 2019 is P500 per person, and all Outstanding Silliman Awardees are free.

SIMM was founded by public relations specialist Ed Dames. Organizers of Friday’s  event are the SIMM board directors: Gerry Tan, Maricar Casono-Callanta, Marl Fernel, Conrada Apostol, Amabella Macias, Eric Duclan, Yasser Lumbos and Mac Floreno. 


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with