06:16, December 20 256 0 theguardian.com

2019-12-20 06:16:04
'Hey, beautiful ladies': Rotterdam man cleared of street harassment

The first man convicted under Rotterdam’s new street harassment laws, also referred to as the catcalling ban, has been cleared by a court of appeal on the grounds that he has a right to freedom of expression.

The 36-year-old had approached two women making kissing gestures as he called out: “Hey, beautiful ladies. Where are you going?”

The man, identified only as Everon el F, had gone on to say: “Where are you from? Come to the South Side”. He then chased after the women, calling: “Hey baby, are you leaving now? Stay with me for a little longer.”

The incident had been witnessed by two street wardens. Under the law, there is no need for the victim to make a complaint. The man subsequently admitted to his behaviour.

He was prosecuted under a 2017 law brought in by Rotterdam city council as part of a crackdown after an increase in the number of incidences of street harassment. The subdistrict court acquitted him for his comments but he was fined for blowing kisses at the women.

The law states it is forbidden to jeer at someone else or others on or along the road or in a building accessible to the public, or to harass another person or others with offensive language, gestures, sounds or behaviour.

Amsterdam, the capital, has introduced a similar bylaw but there are yet to be any convictions.

However, the court of appeal in The Hague found that the man should not have been convicted for any of his behaviour in July 2018, for which he had been ordered to pay a €170 fine or spend three nights in jail.

The court acquitted him for both comments and actions and argued there was “no reason to distinguish between purely verbal expressions, verbal expressions supported by gestures or behaviours, or mere opinions expressed by gestures or other behaviours”.

It also said the scope of the bylaw was “very large” and it was not clear the statements and gestures were “evidently offensive and that the persons to whom they are addressed are thereby harassed”.

The court’s ruling added: “In the Netherlands there is a multicultural society and in, among other things, the municipality of Rotterdam there is a strong multicultural community life in which not everyone has a good command of the Dutch language or is familiar with culturally determined behaviour.”

The judges said: “Citizens who, for whatever reason, cannot (sufficiently) express themselves through (the Dutch) language, must be able to (partly) use gestures.”

The court found that such interference in the right to freedom of expression under article 10 of the European convention of human rights had not been justified.

Rotterdam council published research in 2017 to justify the bylaw. It found that 94% of women aged between 18 and 45 had experienced some form of intimidatory behaviour but the vast majority had not reported it.

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