Opinion

I Photographed My Catcallers For a Week

This was an effort to empower myself as Indonesia continues to let down sexual assault survivors.
19 December 2019, 4:57am
indonsia catcallers
All photos by the author. 

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.

In a bid to be healthier, I began walking from my apartment to my office in September. Not only did I get a morning workout, but my commute also tested my patience for brazen, entitled men. In a city of over 10 million like Jakarta, catcalling is just a part of life. It can garner a variety of responses, depending on how bold the woman is feeling and how much effort they feel like exerting to dismantle the patriarchy.

While some have the guts to publicly shame their catcallers, others prefer to be less confrontational and just keep walking.

On the first day I began walking to work, three middle-aged men repairing an electrical pole called out to me. “Over here miss, look over here,” one of them shouted in a half-joking, half-smug tone, as if to prove to his coworkers that he was the one who had the balls to harass a woman.

A 2017 UN Women study found that men often see catcalling as a way to bond with other men.

Slightly ticked off, I whipped out my phone and snapped a photo of them. Their faces? Priceless.

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After growing accustomed to my daily walks, I felt I needed to reformulate a strategy against catcallers.

I turned and left them behind. I had no intention of spreading their photo anywhere, but having it felt weirdly cathartic.

A photo, I believe, can momentarily reverse the power imbalance between the harasser and the woman. Catcallers feel comfortable objectifying women because they believe there are no real consequences to their actions, but when you have photographic evidence of their smug faces, they seem much less threatening.

In France, catcalling is a crime, but on the other side of the world in Indonesia, anti-sexual harassment legislation is marginal, and that’s me being generous. A bill proposed to protect sexual assault survivors has faced roadblocks at every turn since being introduced earlier this year, with no signs of it being passed in the near future.

On the very same day I crossed paths with the three middle-aged catcallers, another man decided to harass me as I passed a group of motorcycle taxi drivers hanging out on the sidewalk in South Jakarta.

As soon as one of them whistled at me, I spun around to face them, camera at the ready. This time, the culprit was younger and acted alone. He tried to hide behind his friend to avoid being photographed, but I got his stunned face in the end.

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On the third day, a man shouted, “Hey pretty, where are you going?” at me. He was sitting with a bunch of middle-aged men, none of whom paid me any attention after I began taking photos of them.

As I walked away, I figured at least one of them must have a daughter. I bet they wouldn’t like it if someone catcalled one of their daughters while she was walking alone.

My worst catcalling experience took place on day four, which happened to be the day thousands of Indonesian students took to the streets to protest a number of controversial laws. The scene was packed and chaotic, with police firing water cannons and tear gas at protesters. I was there as a journalist, and I was just trying to do my job.

When protesters and law enforcement took a break for evening prayers, a group of policemen in uniform began heckling me to come over to them. Their grins and lewd comments made it clear that this was not a police matter, but blatant catcalling.

I felt even more frustrated that the harassment came from figures of authority who are meant to protect those who are sexually harassed.

I took a quick picture (it's blurry because I panicked) and immediately turned away as the large group of men continued to laugh at me.

Although I only snapped four photos, I was catcalled way more than that. Still, four counts of verbal harassment in a week is too many for the millions of girls and women in this city.

At the very least, maybe my efforts to photograph catcallers will force them to see just how absurd they look. After doing this experiment, I think it’s worth communicating your disappointment to harassers. If it doesn’t make them feel stupid, it’ll definitely give you a heightened sense of control.


Elisabeth Glory Victory is a vlogger and freelance writer based in Surabaya, Indonesia. Follow her on Instagram .