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Catcalling - What is it, and how does it impact the victims?

Nov 26,2022

What is Catcalling?

Sexual harassment exists in various forms, and one of them is catcalling. It refers to verbal or non-verbal communication between the perpetrator and victim, wherein the perpetrator makes comments or advances towards the victim and partakes in sexual harassment. The harassment may involve whistling, winking, grabbing, inappropriate comments about the victim's body, sexualizing the victim, and may also escalate to physical harassment. It is a grave offense and has been regarded as such in the United States of America since the 1970s. Catcalling is a criminal and social problem. While the crime is gender neutral, most victims tend to be women, and most perpetrators are men. 

Characteristically, catcalling is defined by the brevity of the interaction between the perpetrator and the victim, which occurs most commonly in a public place. Unlike other forms of harassment where the perpetrator harasses to obtain the desired response or outcome, the purpose of catcalling does not seem to be more than seeking the victim's attention in lewd ways that make her feel unsafe and uncomfortable. Catcalling has often been glorified in Hollywood romantic comedies or dramas where the female protagonist is shown to be enjoying the catcalling received from the male protagonist. Society needs to understand that catcalling is not a compliment and can be severely detrimental to the physical and mental health of the victim. The severity of this crime should not be diluted because catcalling is a traumatic experience for the victim and can change how they view themselves and function in society. 

The Impact of Catcalling Upon Victims


When a perpetrator catcalls the victim, it is an act of objectification wherein the victim is reduced to a body to be used or examined by the perpetrator instead of being considered a human being with the right to freedom and dignity. It is an attempt to degrade their worth and objectify them. Being subjected to catcalling can make the victim feel incredibly disempowered and helpless. Street harassment during daylight can be even more disempowering because it reflects the poor state of society where people, especially women, can be easily harassed during the day. It highlights the glaring lack of safety mechanisms against sexual harassment in society. This can be an extremely disempowering experience and can deteriorate the victim's mental health. Even though the victim's movement and self-esteem should be diminished having committed the crime, the victims restrict their movements, avoid certain places, lose confidence, and feel as if they do not belong in the community. Furthermore, the victim's freedom is compromised due to catcalling. 

Psychological Distress

Victims usually undergo grave psychological distress when catcalled. It can result in elevated anxiety, leading to panic attacks. The victim may also show signs of depression if the trauma they experienced was severe. At the moment of harassment, the victim may feel angry, embarrassed, or afraid. Fear and anxiety may build up over time, increasing the perception of the risk of rape in female victims. Navigating public spaces constantly with a fear of rape looming over one’s head can be a debilitating experience. Often victims cannot retaliate because they fear that the conflict will escalate and cause greater damage. Victims of catcalling may also develop eating disorders and lose confidence in their sexuality. Some may also struggle with PTSD.


Being objectified by the perpetrator often leads to the victims objectifying themselves. They may feel ashamed about their appearance and develop anxiety around sexual expression. Even though catcalling has nothing to do with a person's clothes, victims begin to dress conservatively to prevent attracting any attention from the perpetrator. It should be noted that catcalling results from a patriarchal society infested with rape culture and is not concerned with the individual actions of the victim. It is an act where the perpetrator tries to establish dominance over the victim by invading their personal, physical, and psychological space. Many times victims, especially women, feel that they did something that enticed the perpetrator to make advances toward them. However, victims should be aware that it is not their actions but the perpetrator's mindset that is responsible for the unfortunate incident. 

Impact of catcalling on child victims

It is noted that one in ten American girls faces catcalling before her eleventh birthday. The impact of catcalling is more concerning when the victim is a child. It can instill wrong ideas in their minds, making them feel their worth is contingent upon their looks. Children who face catcalling may grow up to be adults who believe in the above logic and become a part of the patriarchal culture or resort to victim blaming. Victims may overemphasize the importance of their appearance and compare their bodies with others, resulting in crippling body image issues. The trauma of catcalling compounds with the innocence of children who are not old enough to process the severity of what has happened to them. They may feel dejected with life and stop showing interest in activities that previously enthralled them. Young victims of harassment may also underperform academically and develop a more reserved countenance in the family, rarely sharing their feelings with other family members. Considering how rampant child and teen street harassment is in the USA, parents must look out for unusual behaviors in their children and develop a relationship of mutual trust where they feel safe to share disturbing incidents with their parents. Parents should also communicate to the child that harassment is never the victim's fault, always the perpetrator. Support from family members can prevent child victims from developing psychological issues and may even bolster their confidence.