October 6, 2018
Young women around the world are subject to unwanted comments, gestures, and actions. The group Stop Street Harassment describes street harassment as catcalls, sexually explicit comments, sexist remarks, homophobic slurs, groping, leering, stalking, flashing and assault. Hollabacka dds vulgar gestures, whistling, barking, kissing noises, blocking someone’s path, and public masturbation to the list.
So what is a woman to do when subjected to this kind of behavior on the street, on the bus, at work, etc.?
Remember that being safe is your #1 goal.
Tempting though it may be to engage with a harasser, in most cases it’s not productive. Some women have taken to asking harassers if they’d make the same comment to their daughter or mother. Some give out cards. Some blast the harassers with confetti guns. Some denounce the behavior directly: “Don’t stare at me like that, that is harassment,” or a similar phrase. Some just say something like “that’s not OK,” or “don’t speak to me like that.”
None of that is likely to change a harasser’s behavior, although it probably feels better to these women to do something rather than nothing. Most of the men who harass do so to gain attention – why reward them?
Responding to a harasser may encourage him to continue or to escalate, and in rare cases may prompt anger, aggression or violence. Don’t give in to the desire to educate or embarrass those who feel free to harass – they just aren’t worth it.
Listen to your instincts and intuition
Most harassers are rude, obnoxious, ill-mannered jerks but are ultimately harmless. A small percentage may be predators, who intend to use that initial interaction as a way to connect with and manipulate a woman. They have an agenda far beyond impressing their buddies and feeding their egos. If you have a bad feeling about someone who is harassing you, pay attention! If he creeps you out, there’s a reason. Don’t dismiss or discount what your primal survival system is telling you.
Be prepared to take action
If the harassment moves beyond the verbal into the physical (the harasser follows you, touches you, or worse) you must act. The situation and circumstance will determine what is appropriate. If you can, escape the situation altogether, by going into a store, asking a bystander to walk with you, etc.
Predators don’t want to get caught, so draw attention to them verbally and give yourself permission to be rude and to be loud: “Hey! Back off! Leave me alone! Get away from me right now!” Get your phone out and take a photo or video of him, and let people know what you’re doing: “This man is harassing me! I’m scared and I don’t want his attention. Call the police!”
Predators don’t want to get hurt, and your body and your life are worth protecting, so be prepared to do whatever it takes to protect yourself. Don’t waste time wondering why this is happening to you, accept that it is, and defend yourself. Bite, scratch, hit, kick, scream – do whatever it takes to drive him away. Don’t stop until he does, and if you can, run to a safer place.
Is there anything else?
Accept that you will not be able to stop the common harasser from doing what they like to do. However, rather than feeling powerless, you can contribute to increasing awareness, educate male friends and acquaintances, and participate in activities such as those suggested by Stop Street Harassment on their website. And if you get more than a feeling of minor annoyance from someone who is harassing you (your warning bells are sounding and you suspect that what is happening is more than casual obnoxiousness), take action right away!