Back to Basics: What is Street Harassment?


Sometimes we have to return to the basics. It is important for us to explain exactly what constitutes “Street Harassment” for our new readers as well as consolidating the knowledge of our existing audience. I speak to many people that are aware, vaguely aware, unaware or totally unsure of what is appropriate in public spaces. This is because the perennial problem of street harassment is something we are used to and have come to accept and ignore. So now it’s time to set the record straight.

Street Harassment is any form of behavior, verbal or physical, between strangers in a public space that is unwanted, disrespectful, threatening or violent. The best way to know if this has happened to you is to ask yourself how the abuser/incident has made you feel, if you feel ashamed, angered or forced to stare at the floor, walk faster or dive into a shop – you should not tolerate it and you should definitely Hollaback!

Street Harassment affects everyone, men, women and LGBTQ folk, although statistically it happens to certain groups more frequently than others, not a single individual on the planet is impervious to it. It manifests itself in all manner of ways from wolf whistles to assault. Popular Anti –Street Harassment site Stop Street Harassment has defined the varying types of street harassment:

“It ranges from leers, whistles, honks, kissing noises, and non-sexually explicit evaluative comments, to more insulting and threatening behavior like vulgar gestures, sexually charged comments, flashing, and stalking, to illegal actions like public masturbation, sexual touching, assault, and murder.”

A few months ago I met a man via my husband who asked me “where do you draw the line in street harassment?” It is interesting because I do not believe that he was a pervert or a mean person, just an ignorant product of the “boys will be boys” mentality that trivializes the act of abusing another person on the street. He continued:

“Well what exactly can I say to a woman on the street?”

For this poor chap, my advice was that it was probably best for him to say nothing at all and maybe he should imagine being bound by an imaginary line that forever lies just ahead of him. I could not blame him entirely because we are constantly exposed to images that suggest such behavior is acceptable. There is a scene in “The Hangover” where the characters cruise a cop car down the Vegas strip, using the loud speaker Bradley Cooper’s character informs a woman on the street something to the effect of “you have an awesome rack”, having already accepted the other humorous parts of the movie so it is widely accepted as “harmless fun”. However, I am sure the majority of people out there would not like to have their “rack” or any other part of them referred to by a total stranger on the street.

Regardless of sex, creed, color or choice of outfit everyone has the right to feel safe and confident on the streets without fear of any varying violation of their person or personal space. We have the power to end street harassment and we will. Join the revolution, it’s freakin’ awesome!

5 responses to “Back to Basics: What is Street Harassment?

  1. I’m just guessing that when your friend asked where you draw the line on street harassment, he was asking where you draw the line to start considering it harassment, not “what kind of harassment do you think is ok and what isn’t”. Although, apparently you consider any contact whatsoever between a male and female to be harassment or something…
    You seriously think that his only option is to just say nothing to any woman on the street? It’s either nothing or it’s harassment? How many people out there have met their current significant other due to them being bold enough to approach them in public and asking them out? I think there are absolutely appropriate ways to do this that allow the other person to feel safe, and to respond to the situation (even to decline or remove themselves from it) while leaving both people’s dignity intact.

    And just for the record, some of us would like having our bodies complimented by a stranger! (I agree it’s safer and more appropriate not to, but you’d be wrong to assume we’d all be offended by it).


    Most women DON’T want men making comments about our bodies. Objectification SUCKS. So men should ALWAYS ASSUME those kinds of comments are unwanted.

    That said, if it’s unaccompanied by a disgusting leer, I’d say a respectful ‘hello’ is an acceptable approach. Or a ‘what’s up’. If conversation flows from there, cool. If not, a man should shut up and keep on walking.

  3. Honestly, though, when I’m walking down the street, the last thing in the world I want is for some dudebro to proposition me. I’m out to the store for drinks, not for some desperate jerk.

    Go to a bar if you’re looking for a mate.

  4. I’ve read somewhere that the litmus test for “is it just flirting or is it harassment” for the flirters/harassers POV is to ask themselves “am I objectifying this person as a body part (butt, breasts, legs, whatever) and have I forgotten they’re a full human being?”.

    Once you pass the point of remembering the person you’re directing your attention to is a full human being with an internal life, emotions and all that stuff, and moved to looking at them as body parts for your consumption, you’ve moved to harassment.

    We’re not saying you can never speak to a woman in a public place. And you damn well know it. There are plenty of RESPECTFUL ways to speak to other people in public places. And then there’s harassment, which we have to deal with every day in a way that you don’t.

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