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Yes, women still get catcalled when they're pregnant. Here's why

"Being catcalled while pregnant is probably the worst — not only do I have to fear that I’m in danger but that my unborn baby is also in danger.”

Margo Hughes-Robinson, 30, was eight months pregnant and running late to brunch.

Suffering through rushed train transfers, several flights of stairs and pregnancy-related sciatica, Hughes-Robinson says she was "large, slow moving and very focused on my brunch opportunity."

As she huffed up another flight of stairs to exit the subway, Hughes-Robinson was catcalled — a form of gender-based street harassment that she says left her "totally off-guard."

"I don't remember exactly what they said," Hughes-Robinson tells TODAY.com. "It was something sexualizing, about my gender and my body. It was totally demeaning."

According to one 2019 study, 71% of women report experiencing verbal sexual harassment in public spaces, compared to just 28% of men.

Experts say instances of street harassment or "catcalling" can actually increase when a person is visibly pregnant.

"Our research shows that teenage girls in middle school experience the most harassment," Holly Kearl, the founder of Stop Street Harassment, a nonprofit organization dedicated to documenting and ending gender-based street harassment worldwide, tells TODAY.com.

"Certainly a 13-year-old girl is going to be much more vulnerable than a 35-year-old woman," Kearl, an expert on the global problem of sexual harassment in public spaces, adds. "And yes, a pregnant woman can't necessarily fight back as easily or run away as easily, so she can be more vulnerable in different ways and that does make her more of a target."

Victoria Rodriguez, 26, says she was catcalled when she was eight months pregnant with her first child.

"I stopped to put gas (in my car) and as I walked out of the store, two grown men catcalled me by whistling and making little remarks at me," Rodriguez, who lives in Texas and is currently pregnant with her second child, tells TODAY.com. "At the time my stomach was very visible and you could tell that I was pregnant. Instead of choosing to put in the gas I paid for, I got into my car and locked the doors and waited for them to leave.

"Being a woman and being catcalled makes me feel like I'm in danger," she adds. "As a woman and a mother, I already have to take precautions, such as parking next to the cart return so I don't have to walk a long distance with my daughter. Being catcalled while pregnant is probably the worst — not only do I have to fear that I'm in danger but that my unborn baby is also in danger."

In the same 2019 survey, 80% of respondents said the first time they were catcalled it "caused them to feel less safe in the world," 75% said it changed how they felt about being in public and 54% said it caused them to change their life in some way.

Yet studies show that instances of street harassment are frequently dismissed or diminished, and people often blame victims rather than the perpetrators of sexual harassment.

Kearl says making someone feel dehumanized and unsafe is the point of street harassment, and is not "a compliment" or the result of what someone is wearing.

"It's definitely about power and control," Kearl says. "It's about disrespect and sexualization. We have a history in our country and in most countries around the world (that says) a public space is 'a male domain,' so a lot of men and boys feel like it's fair game for them to harass women and girls that they encounter."

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the largest nonprofit anti-sexual assault organization in the United States, one of the worst things a person can do when someone tells them they've been catcalled is to "reduce their experience" by blaming their clothing or appearance.

Instead, people should "listen without judgment" and, if they have one, share their own story of street harassment.

Hughes-Robinson says she was grateful for the way her friends responded to the news that she had been catcalled while pregnant.

"The people in my life were not surprised, because I move in a social circle where there’s an understanding that catcalling is about power and not about whether or not you look attractive," Hughes-Robinson says. "They just said: 'I’m so sorry, that must have made you feel small and I apologize.'"

Still, Hughes-Robinson, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, says she can recall how being catcalled while pregnant impacted her mentally and emotionally.

"I didn't walk out of the house expecting to feel onstage or present for public consumption," she says. "It felt like a public interrogation of my body. Every time I left the house I felt very conscious of just being in a body that was larger than I was used to it being, so then anytime I left the house I felt inherently vulnerable.

"That level of physical vulnerability was something I had not experienced in a very long time, writ large," she says. "So to have all that already going on in your head, and then have a stranger kind of add their public and often dehumanizing comment on top of it? I didn't need (a stranger) to confirm all those anxieties."