New York City Considers Banning Lewd,Rude,Crude Speech

November 15, 2010

New York City may try to ban lewd,rude, crude come-ons from strangers in public places. This is an age-old problem for women that may now be regulated through legislation. A City Council committee heard testimony a couple of weeks ago from women who said “men regularly follow them, yell at them and make them feel unsafe and uncomfortable.”

There is a tendency to make light of this behavior. The post I linked to above had an online poll indicating that the overwhelming number of readers were “laughing” about the article rather than feeling “furious or “sad.”

Still, the testimony did address serious problems. There were stories about preteens being hounded by adult men while on their way to school and examples of women switching jobs or schools because of these unwelcome comments.

There is evidence that there has been a decrease in these public come-ons in recent years, as society in general has become more sensitive to inappropriate behavior.  Employers are disciplining employees who engage in this conduct.

From a legal standpoint, I think any legislation creating “no-catcall zones” would be violative of the First Amendment’s free speech protections. Back in 2008  Gillian Thomas,senior staff attorney at Legal Momentum, a woman’s rights organization headquartered in New York, seemed to acknowledge as much:”There is no legal definition for street harassment. There are harassment statutes on the books but I am not aware of any statutes that deal with this kind of issue.”

Laws exist which punish speech, but only when coupled with violent acts or threats of violence. Read this post to learn about the criminal consequences of verbal threats in California. New York has a statute criminalizing the “making of terroristic threats.”

It is doubtful that any statute banning compliments from strangers, no matter how unwelcome or rude, would pass constitutional muster.

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