Every woman, regardless of her age, race or sexual orientation, has likely been harassed at some point in her life. Can you remember a time when you were made to feel uncomfortable by the way a man looked at you, or a comment made with an noticeably sleazy undertone?
Maybe a group of boys yelled something out of their car window as they drove past or whistled at you as you walked past with a group of friends.
These are all instances of street harassment. And, despite what we've been raised to believe, it's serious.
Maria Thattil, who was crowned Miss Universe Australia in 2020, is well aware of the impact street harassment can have on victims, particularly as someone who has experienced it a disproportionate amount as a queer woman of colour.
According to an international survey recently conducted by L'Oreal Paris, women who are First Nations, Black, disabled, trans, nonbinary, gender diverse or have a low income are disproportionately impacted by street harassment.
"When we do experience it, this harassment is often laced with a discriminatory undertone," Thattil told ELLE Australia. "I've had instances where I've been called racial slurs, and when I've been out with the girl I'm dating, had homophobic sentiments thrown at us."
Thattil explained that she, like countless other women, has been experiencing street harassment for a countless number of years, with the first instance occurring when she was just 15.
"When I was in my teenage years, around 15, I remember an older man in his 50s, yelled out that I was beautiful and asked me my age. After I told him, he responded with, 'wow, they didn't make them like that when I was in school,'" she recalled.
"It stands out in my mind because it's those first experiences of womanhood, where you're coming into your body and learning that you just have to expect to be uncomfortable, because you will be objectified and sexualized from a young age. I knew I was uncomfortable. I didn't feel safe, and I hated it, but I just kept quiet. I thought I better just walk away and ignore it."
Given that she now has a growing public platform, Thattil has decided to use it as a force for change, bringing national and global awareness to this issue and announcing her ambassador role for L'Oréal Paris' latest campaign, in partnership with girls' rights charity Plan International Australia.
Stand Up Against Street Harassment is a global initiative aiming to raise awareness about street harassment and train bystanders to safely stand up against it when they see it. Given that we all have a responsibility to prevent harassment in public spaces, bystander intervention encourages witnesses to safely step forward when they see someone experiencing street harassment, taking some of the burden off the victim.
According to the brand's survey, 97% of women use strategies to avoid situations where they might encounter street harassment, whether it be avoiding public transport, changing the way they dress or carrying their keys in their hands. Understandably, it takes a huge amount of effort both mentally and physically.
It's just not good enough.
As for how the campaign encourages people to stand up safely, the campaign has launched a training series on a methodology known as the 5Ds.
The 5D's Method
- Distract by starting a conversation with the person being harassed or drawing attention away from the person being harassed
- Delegate by asking some help
- Document the harassment
- Direct by speaking up
- Delay by comforting
"One of the biggest roadblocks for many people is that they don't know what to do if they see it because they're worried about interjecting in a situation that might not be safe," Thattil explained, of the 5D method.
"Even if you get it wrong and you interject and try to show solidarity to someone being harassed, and they say, 'actually, it's cool, I know this person,' — that's the best case scenario. The 5Ds give people the confidence to go and figure that out instead of walking away and doing nothing."
You can take the free, one-hour virtual training session here, where you'll hear from six of Plan International Australia's most inspiring youth activists as they take you through the 5Ds, which is an effectively proven methodology in standing up to street harassment. By the end of the year, L'Oréal Paris hopes to have trained a global community of 1.5 million people who can serve as allies to victims of this social issue.
"L'Oréal Paris and the Stand Up campaign shifts the focus off victims, because we need to challenge this culture of victim-blaming," Thattil said, when aked why this campaign in particular is so important to get behind.
"It puts the focus on the person who's doing the harassment which is wonderful, because no one should learn to shrink themselves just to exist safely - we all have the right to safety."