Frotteurism : a variation of street harassment
Gender-based street harassment is very common nowadays, and I am fairly certain all of us have heard of it, witnessed it or experienced it by now. We can easily find testimonies about street harassment online (for instance, in this previous blog post).
Feminists have argued that street harassment is a manner for men to claim that the public space belongs to them and that women should remain in the private sphere. For example, Deborah M. Thompson stated in an article in the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism :
If [...] women are subject to violation of that zone of personal privacy when they enter public areas, that very invasion of privacy effectively drives women back into the private sphere, where they may avoid such violations. Thus, by turning women into objects of public attention when they are in public, harassers drive home the message that women belong only in the world of the private.In New York, the Rob Bliss Creative Video Agency filmed a woman walking on the streets for 10 hours (youtube video). In Belgium, Sofie Peeters a documentary film student filmed the streets of Brussels in her documentary Femme de la Rue (Woman of the Street).
Critiques have been made about the underlying racism and classicism of these films because their focus is on a white young woman being harassed mostly by young black and Latino men. Since then, sources and movements are more cautious and have acknowledged that everyone can get harassed by pretty much everyone. Hollaback, an international non-profit and movement to end harassment in public spaces stated :
Replacing sexism with racism is not a proper holla back. Ditto to classism, homophobia, transphobia, and the usage of any other identity signifier. In our experiences, harassment comes from people in every facet of our cultures and every strata of society.The same movement along with Cornell University conducted an illuminating international survey in 2014, with total of 16,607 respondents. The survey reveals for example that more than 81.5% of European women and 85% of US women experienced their first street harassment before the age of 17.
However, there is a variation of this phenomenon that gets less coverage in my opinion : frotteurism. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as
The paraphiliac practice of achieving sexual stimulation or orgasm by touching and rubbing against a person without the person's consent and usually in a public place—called also frottage.Not surprisingly, it happens usually on public transportation where people (usually men, aged 15-25) act like the place is too crowded and get closer to other people (usually women). They get so close that they touch the victim and basically grope them or rub themselves against him/her. A bus or subway never gets that crowded. In fact, these acts can constitute sexual assault, depending on the country's law.
In taking advantage of the fact that they are stuck on public transport and in the crowd, the assailants count on the victim's impulse not to make a scene. They rely on the victim's embarrass and passiveness.
It would be truly interesting to have data on frotteurism and to identify countries/regions were it happens more frequently. I struggled to find such reliable information. However, it is common at least in France and Italy as I have witnessed firsthand. A special police force in Paris is actually dedicated to spotting frotteurs (to see them in action : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=229YitKOJJs).
Frotteurism is considered to be a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.
The symptoms must have been present for at least 6 months and the patient must experience significant distress or negative impact on functioning [...] Diagnosis of frotteuristic disorder is based on recurrent touching or rubbing of one or more nonconsenting individuals on at least three occasions, and clinically significant distress. [...] Treatment of frotteuristic disorder focuses on the reduction of sexual urges and behaviors through behavioral therapy, used to identify triggers and redirect behavior, and psychopharmaceutical intervention.I find it hard to believe that this type of behavior is a disorder. I am fairly certain that in some places or cities this type of harassment does not occur. Thus, it seems too easy to justify this horrific behavior by merely saying it is not something that the perpetrators can control.