Street Harassment

You should be able to feel comfortable and safe in public spaces without the fear of being harassed. Like other forms of sexual harassment and assault, street harassment is about power and intimidation.

What is street harassment?

Street harassment includes unwanted comments, gestures, or acts directed at someone in a public space without their consent.

Street harassment includes some of the following unwanted behaviors:

  • Comments, requests, and demands
  • Commenting on physical appearance, such as someone’s body or the clothing they’re wearing
  • Continuing to talk to someone after they have asked to be left alone
  • Flashing
  • Following or stalking
  • Groping
  • Intentionally invading personal space or blocking the way
  • Persistent requests for someone’s name, number, or other information
  • Public masturbation or touching
  • Sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic slurs, or any comments insulting or demeaning an aspect of someone’s identity
  • Showing pornagraphic images without someone’s consent
  • Staring
  • Taking a photo of someone without their consent
  • Telling someone to smile
  • Up-skirting, which is taking a photo up a skirt or dress without that person’s permission
  • Using a mirror to look up someone’s skirt or dress without their permission
  • Whistling

Who does street harassment affect?

Though street harassment can happen to anyone—regardless of gender, age, or any other aspect of your identity—it is often directed at individuals because of their actual or perceived gender expression, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, or disability. No form of harassment is OK; and it is never a compliment. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and to feel safe in public spaces.

What are some of the effects of street harassment?

Street harassment has negative effects both on those who experience it and for communities as a whole. Being harassed in a public space can make you worried about your physical safety and creates an environment of fear and intimidation.

It rarely happens just once. For those who experience street harassment, it is often not an isolated incident, but something that happens over and over again. The cumulative effect of these types of comments and behaviors can cause the person being harassed to feel a heightened sense of anxiety, or to be “on edge” at all times.

It hurts communities. People are less likely to engage with strangers and participate in their communities if they fear being harassed.

It is a human rights’ issue. It limits individuals’ ability to be in public. Someone may avoid leaving their home, work, or school for fear of being harassed, limiting their access to opportunities and community.

It has financial effects. Many people who have experienced street harassment may feel unsafe walking home, going out after dark, or taking public transportation alone. Because of this fear, many people are forced to spend money on private transportation, such as ride apps, when they would otherwise take public transportation or walk. For those who cannot afford these options, fear of street harassment can severely limit when and where they can go out in public, which also limits access to employment and education.

What can I do if street harassment happens to me?

If you experience street harassment, remember that it is not your fault. Street harassment is never a compliment and is never OK. Everyone has the right to feel safe in public spaces. There is no one right way to respond to someone who is harassing you. Because street harassment is about power and intimidation—and there is often a reasonable fear of further violence—it is essential to “trust your gut” in these situations.

Though you are in no way responsible for the actions of those harassing you, it may be useful to learn about strategies that can help you feel more safe.

  • Go somewhere safe. If you are being followed on the street or feel that your physical safety is in danger, going into a local business, store, coffee shop, or apartment building lobby where the harasser may be discouraged from following you, or where you can get help from a security guard.
  • Report. If the street harassment occurs outside of a business or on public transportation, you can report the behavior. If you can guess the employer of the person harassing you, for instance if they are working on a construction site, you can report the harassment to the company. Some forms of street harassment, such as groping, flashing, and following, are legally recognized and you can report them to law enforcement.
  • Do what is best for you. The best thing to do if you are being harassed is whatever will make you feel most safe and comfortable. You are in no way obligated to respond to a harasser or to report them. Though responding to or reporting a harasser can be empowering, it can also be exhausting and potentially unsafe. Trust your judgement to do what feels right for you.

How can I help?

If you see street harassment happening, there are a few ways you can potentially help if you feel safe enough to do so.

  • When in doubt, assume you should help. If you are not sure whether a situation is harassment or not, assume that it is and ask the person being harassed if they need help. You can say something like “Are you OK?” or “Are they bothering you?”
  • Step in. If you can, practice bystander intervention by calling out the harasser on what they just did and why it was not acceptable. You can say something like, “You just touched that man when he didn’t want you to. That’s not OK. Stop harassing people.”
  • Check in with the person being harassed. If you see harassment occur, consider asking the person who was harassed if they are OK and if they need any help.
  • Report. You can report that you witnessed harassment to public transportation officials, law enforcement, or the harasser’s employer.

You can also help to end street harassment and increase awareness around the issue in a couple different ways.

  • Never blame the victim. If someone tells you about street harassment they have experienced, the best thing you can do is to listen without judgement and tell them that they did not deserve what happened. You should never reduce their experiences by saying things like “this happened to you because you’re so beautiful,” or “maybe you shouldn’t have worn that dress today.”
  • Share your experiences. If you feel comfortable doing so, talk with people in your life about street harassment when it occurs. This can not only let others know that they are not alone in these experiences, but can help to raise awareness of the frequency of street harassment and its harmful effects among those who haven’t experienced it.
  • Call out your friends. If you witness your friend harassing someone on the street by cat-calling them, whistling, making a sexual comment, repeatedly asking for their information, etc., tell your friend to stop. Take time to explain to them why what they did was harassment and that it is wrong.

Where can I learn more or get help?

  • To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org y en español a rainn.org/es.
  • If you or someone you know has been affected by gender-based street harassment, support is available in English and Spanish at 855.897.5910 or through online chat.
  • To learn more about street harassment and for details about the sources for this page, visit Stop Street Harassment.

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