Making the 16th Street Mall a friendlier place

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Today is the last day to submit survey responses to the Downtown Denver Partnership regarding security and safety on the 16th Street Mall. Take the survey here.

I wanted to share my open letter to the DDP.  This is in response to the question “What else could be done to improve your experience on the 16th Street Mall/Downtown Denver?” 

                                                                                                                                                                                                        

For one, don’t take away the MallRide – it makes for convenient movement up and down the Mall.

Aside from my concern about having to walk a few blocks in the winter from my parking garage to my office, my main concern is, and continues to be, street harassment in downtown Denver.

“Smile for me!”

“Hey baby, I’d like a piece of that”

“Ugly fag”

“Dyke”

“Aren’t you beautiful”

These are comments that constitute harassment. They are not compliments. Imagine if someone said this to you/you said this to someone in your office, in the post office, or in a classroom. It wouldn’t be considered ok; so why is it ok on the street? It’s not.

StopStreetHarassment.org defines street harassment as “Catcalls, sexually explicit comments, sexist remarks, homophobic slurs, groping, leering, stalking, flashing, and assault. Most women and some men will face gender-based street harassment by strangers in their life. Street harassment limits people’s mobility and access to public spaces. It is a form of gender violence and it’s a human rights violation. It needs to stop.”

As a site leader for Hollaback! Mile High, I will tell you: It needs to be addressed in Denver. There are multiple campaigns in other cities: New York’s MTA; Washington, DC’s WMATA; Boston; Philadelphia; Los Angeles; Vancouver; London; Toronto. WMATA employees are trained to handle harassment complaints. Denver can join the ranks of these cities making strides in educating about and preventing street harassment.

There are a few laws that are applicable, or could be applicable, to street harassment. However, the one that the Downtown Denver Partnership, RTD, and the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District can utilize in their revitalization of 16th Street is Unlawful Conduct on Public Property (Title 18, Article 9, § 117). This statute states “In Colorado, supervisors, managers, and administrators of public property and spaces have the power to proscribe the acceptable conduct within that public space. Their rules for the use of the space are enforceable by lawif they are posted publicly, including rules that prohibit “activities or conduct within public buildings or on public property which may be reasonably expected to substantially interfere with the use and enjoyment of such places by others or which may constitute a general nuisance.”

Hollaback! Mile High would be glad to help the DDP, RTD, and BID craft the rules and postings to mitigate harassment on the Mall. In conjunction with public education, having recourse to approach law enforcement confidently, as one would for any other crime, bolsters targets of harassment to speak up. It reinforces the commitment that your organizations have to make Downtown and the Mall linger-worthy places.

Other laws for following (Title 18, Article 9, § 111); groping (Title 18, Article 3, § 404); and indecent exposure (Title 18, Article 7, § 302) are all available. You want people to feel safe on the mall. However, according to Gallup data in 2011, men are twice as likely to say they feel safe walking alone at night compared to women. Street harassment is a huge factor in that. What starts as a comment often turns into being followed, groped, or exposed to another’s genetalia. In one study, over 60% of women have experienced this. Nearly the same number say they’ve hadtheir path blocked, or have been grabbed or groped.

This is an issue that affects between 65-100% of women, and nearly 50% of men. It is not a fringe issue, or an overblown issue. Street harassment evokes anxiety and fear. Long term effects are depression, PTSD, and low self-esteem. These are not effects that are conducive to hanging out in Downtown Denver.

 

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