Catcalling is an all too common experience in Malta that plagues our streets. It contributes to a general feeling of lack of safety, and can oftentimes lead to stalking or an invasion of personal space.
Although it is not so commonly known, catcalling, also known as street harassment, is in fact illegal.
This is the first in a multi-series article from a Lovin Malta survey looking into catcalling in the country, and respondents detailed a wealth of horrific incidents they’ve experienced on Malta’s streets.
Of the nearly 200 people that recounted their experiences with catcalling to Lovin Malta, a concerning amount of victims were underage.
“I was waiting for my dad to pick me up when a car stopped and kept complimenting me and persuading me to get in the car. I was 10 years old,” one woman said.
“I was once walking in Valletta and a guy walked past me, looked at my boobs (which were covered, not that it matters), and said “żejża sabiħa”… I was 13,” said another.
For some victims, even walking can be a hotspot for street harassment.
One of the most alarming recounts was a woman getting catcalled by a builder on a construction site, who very vulgarly shouted “ejja l’hawn ha nġib għo***k chewing gum.”
“I was once walking home. An older man whistled from his car, slowed down, and called out ‘Aw S*X’. I was 14.”
One woman with stretched ears recently walking through Valletta had a man say to her, “Ħa ngħaddi ż*bbi minn ġot-tunnel ħi,” to which she replied, “ħazin jekk jgħaddi minn hawn ġbin”.
The trauma of street harassment can be long-lasting, with victims often feeling unsafe whenever they leave the house alone.
“Being yelled at ‘aw vagina’ really stuck with me as I was still young and never thought that part of my body was significant at the time. And I felt embarrassed, when I did nothing but walk through the street in broad daylight,” another woman said.
Another woman also recounted her past fears and anxieties, “I remember the anxiety I used to feel aged 16 waiting for my bus in the main road and numerous cars with males passing by and catcalling me,” she said.
“Being overweight all my life has given some idiots the right to call out “Aw boċċa” or “Aw sex” while I was walking and they were driving. This happened in my teenage years and early twenties. It was the most humiliating thing to have been called that for me and it will always remain stamped at the back of my mind,” said another.
Oftentimes, catcalling veers towards open sexual assault, with one woman detailing how a man was once masturbating in his car and looking at her, while she was just minding her own business as she waited for the bus.
“We were walking through a crowded area and a man brushed past me, grabbed my ass, and kept on walking. I looked back to try and spot him but couldn’t catch him. Still spooks me when I think about it. I was 12,” said another.
“I was whistled at, and I looked up to see that I was being flashed by an older man,” one woman detailed.
Two other women also experienced being at the beach and catching a middle-aged man masturbating while looking at them from behind a bush.
People may think that perpetrators tend to target the underage community. However, many respondents in their 30s, 40s, and 50s still experience catcalling regularly.
“It was summer and I was wearing shorts. I was in my parked car, with my window down. This man came up to the window saying “hawn sabiħa” among other things. Then he grabbed my leg, and I froze. It happened in just a few seconds. Thankfully, he left as other people were passing by,” said one woman in her 40s.
“‘Ejja ħa ngħamillek baby’ was the worst one of all, whilst I was simply running in my sportswear.”
Apparently, even laughing outside can garner unsolicited attention, with one woman recalling that she was “once walking in Sliema and a man told me and my friends to stop laughing because it ‘gets him excited'”
Or what about getting pastizzi? One woman trying to make an order had a man quite literally rub up against her with the excuse of needing to pass by.
Two young women were even mistaken for prostitutes by two guys who kept asking for their ‘rates,’ when they were really just trying to walk home.
“I experience catcalling quite frequently, to the point that it doesn’t even bother me anymore, which is a really sad normality,” said one woman.
And it’s not just women who are affected, men can also be victims of catcalling and street harassment.
One said that he was once approached by a full van of men wanting to have sex with him while he was on his way home from work.
He recounted how living in Gzira, he tends to experience a lot of ‘pimps’ of sex workers in the area, coming up to him and threatening him if he doesn’t have sexual relations with their women.
Another in his 30s said that while he has not been a victim of catcalling himself, he often sees “men blatantly stare down and harass women in the street.” This was also seconded by another man, who similarly said that he often witnesses catcalling while walking in Bugibba.
Everyone has been forced to accept street harassment as a normality, as something that they have no control over whether it happens or not.
What started out as a glimpse into catcalling on the streets of Malta, erupted into many individuals coming forward with stories that are borderline sexual harassment. Being stalked, followed, flashed, or threatened should not be a common experience.
If you want to share your story on sexual harassment please reach out to [email protected]
In more grave situations like sexual assault, please reach out to Victim Support Malta at [email protected]
Have you experienced anything similar?