Catcalling leaves victims feeling scared, disgusted and insecure. The prevalence of catcalling is significant, and people like fellow The Daily Texan columnist Emily Vernon demand repercussions to mitigate such occurrences.
However, it may surprise many to know that loose diction exists in Chapter 42 of the Texas Penal Code that makes catcalling a Class B Misdemeanor — sort of.
The exact rhetoric reads: “A person commits an offense if, with intent to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass another, the person: (1) initiates communication and in the course of the communication makes a comment, request, suggestion, or proposal that is obscene.”
But if catcalling seems to be so actionable by definition, why do anecdotes of victims end with silence and not legal action?
In Austin, the problem has two parts. First, the legislation lacks specific wording that encompasses catcalling. Secondly, while the Austin Police Department has an effective online police report filing system for the public, there lacks a section under “Harassment” for reporting catcalling.
“Street harassment should be made an offense worthy of a ticket or fine. If the harasser has a criminal history of sexual abuse or assault, it should be worthy of arrest,” said Anna Aldridge in her petition to make catcalling in Austin illegal. While the petition eventually lost traction, the almost 500 signatories still strongly believe in the cause and the innumerable anecdotes heard everyday.
Though the petition lacks specific policy solutions, the problems it highlights are legitimate issues in the Austin area and undoubtedly elsewhere. Aldridge admits, “I understand this may be incredibly difficult to enforce, but it’s at least a place to start.”
An addition to Section 42.07 should describe a person committing a harassment offense if he or she engages in unsolicited communication of a sexual nature. This should be a more specific version of Part 1, which describes an offender as initiating communication that is obscene. “Obscene,” as part of the section, refers to a “description of or a solicitation to commit an ultimate sex act.” However, catcalling can be as seemingly innocuous as making faces of a sexual nature or calling out non-sexual terminology with sexual connotations. The current legislation leaves a gray area as most types of catcalling do not include an “ultimate sex act.” New wording should redefine “unsolicited communication” to include any language or body language that can be proven to have implicit sexual meaning.
New wording that lists catcalling as its own crime under Section 42.07, rather than blanketing it under Part 1 of Section 42.07, could allow for specific prosecution and also facilitate the reporting and enforcement of the crime.
Enforcing these types of crimes would largely be based on victims reporting the crimes themselves, as well as the occasional chance police intervention. With new wording in place, police could take direct action against catcallers. Such wording should also include stipulations that allow for video footage, recordings, or picture evidence that could be used by a victim to file a police report.
Revised legislation, coupled with the creation of a specific catcalling section in the public police report filing system, would become a powerful tool for fighting catcalling’s pervasiveness.
Catcalling is one of the smallest but most prevalent acts in a culture of sexual assault. However, such specific legislation could give victims a very important means of fighting back and shows that our government has taken a stance against such disgusting behavior. It’s the least that can be done to ensure the safety and security of fellow citizens.
Batlanki is a Neuroscience sophomore from Flower Mound. Follow him on Twitter @RohanBatlanki.