Nonprofit groups have helped California legislators in crafting two new bills that would help raise awareness and curb violence against women and other vulnerable groups in public areas.
Introduced on Thursday, the proposed initiatives are among the first of their kind in the U.S. to address street harassment as a public health issue rather than a criminal one. The bills aim to lessen street harassment through “data-driven solutions based on the ridership experiences of women and other vulnerable communities,” according to a press release about the bills.
Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit organization that advocates the civil rights of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, sponsored both bills with the help of state senators and assemblymembers.
The national coalition has documented over 9,000 hate incidents against AAPI individuals across the U.S. from March 2020 to June 2021, as NextShark previously reported. Nearly 40% of reported attacks occurred in California, which has the largest AAPI population in the country.
Based on Stop AAPI Hate’s data, women reported around 66% of the incidents, the majority of which happened in public spaces or businesses.
The first bill, introduced by California Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine), aims to protect women and other vulnerable groups against attacks while using public transit systems.
If passed, the bill would require the 10 largest transit districts in the state to create passenger safety initiatives based on the different kinds of harassment people face while commuting.
According to Min, the legislation will “help restore confidence in the safety of public transportation so that everyone — especially women and minorities — can ride from one place to the next without fear.”
“We know factors in our environment have a profound effect on shaping a person’s overall health and well-being,” Sen. Min said in a statement to NextShark. “Street harassment is a social determinant of health — we must reduce these incidences to improve the mental and physical health, especially the well-being of women and other vulnerable groups. Street harassment does not often rise to criminal conduct, but it significantly impacts large portions of our population. My bill is a starting point to create a societal shift.”
“There are times when law enforcement is an appropriate response to harm, but harassment cannot be policed out of existence,” he added. “This is a social problem that impacts half of California’s population, including whether and how they take the transit they need to work, school, and buy food and other necessities for themselves and their loved ones that needs to be assessed and addressed.”
Assemblymembers Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) and Dr. Akilah Weber (D-San Diego) introduced a second bill that would launch a “multiyear public education campaign” to spread awareness about street discrimination and harassment.” The campaigns would be conducted by the California Department of Public Health and made accessible to residents with limited English proficiency.
In a statement, Weber acknowledged that “street harassment against women and vulnerable communities is all too common and is rarely addressed by current laws.”
According to Stop AAPI Hate co-founder Manjusha P. Kulkarni, the cases reported by various members of the AAPI community in recent years were similar to the recent fatal attacks against women of Asian descent in New York.
Last month, a homeless man killed Michelle Go by pushing her onto the subway tracks. On Sunday, a man followed Christina Yuna Lee to her apartment before stabbing her over 40 times.
Investigators have yet to determine whether Lee was targeted due to her race, while the alleged suspect behind Go’s death was not given with a hate crime charge.
Kulkarni said the number of hate incidents happening in public spaces prompted Stop AAPI Hate to collaborate with state legislators to create policy solutions.
Stop AAPI Hate is also co-sponsoring a third bill which aims to protect vulnerable individuals working for large businesses.
The bill, which has not been introduced yet, would require the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing to create a training resource for businesses, as well as a pilot program which “recognizes those that create welcoming spaces for all customers.”