How to Respond to Harassment

Want more information on how to respond to harassment? Keep reading for tips on responding to street harassment. For tips on responding to online harassment, check out HeartMob’s resources and FAQs.

Responding When You’re Harassed

The truth is, there is no right or wrong way to respond to harassment because it isn’t your fault. Your response is a matter of personal choice.

Before we launched Hollaback!, we tried every strategy in the book to confront harassers directly – we yelled at them, scolded them, educated them – but it never seemed to work. We eventually decided that our attempts to be “one-woman street harassment education machines” weren’t hitting this issue at its root. To end street harassment, we had to change the culture that made it acceptable to begin with. Cultural shifts start with people coming forward to boldly share their stories, and story by story we’ve been building the case for why street harassment matters since 2005.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, “Sexual harassment often has a serious and negative impact on women’s physical and emotional health, and the more severe the harassment, the more severe the reaction. The reactions frequently reported by women include anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, weight loss or gain, loss of appetite, and headaches. Researchers have also found that there is a link between sexual harassment and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Our research shows that responding to harassment reduces the emotional impact of street harassment – but how you respond is your choice. You can decide to respond directly to street harassers, or choose to respond by taking action against the culture that makes it acceptable. We’ve got some examples of both below.

But first, what is street harassment?

According to The Advocates for Human Rights, street harassment is, quite simply, “unwelcome or unwanted verbal, non-verbal, physical or visual conduct based on sex or of a sexual nature which occurs with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person.”

Examples of street harassment:
  • Comments about someone’s appearance, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
  • Vulgar gestures
  • Sexually explicit comments (e.g. “Hey baby, I’d like a piece of that”)
  • Leering
  • Whistling
  • Barking
  • Kissing noises
  • Following someone
  • Flashing someone or exposing oneself
  • Blocking someone’s path
  • Sexual touching or grabbing (e.g., touching someone’s legs, breasts or butt)
  • Public masturbation
If I choose to respond directly to harassers, how should I do it?

Your safety is the first priority. If you feel safe and choose to respond directly to harassers, here are some general guidelines designed to keep you safe:

  1. Be firm. Look them in the eye and denounce their behavior with a strong, clear voice. Many people prefer to name the behavior, for example, “do not comment on my body, that is harassment,” “Do not stare at me like that, that is harassment,” or a similar phrase. You can also simply say “that is not OK,” or “don’t speak to me like that.” Try out different phrases to see what feels natural to you. The important thing is that you aren’t apologetic in your response in your statement. Skip phrases like “I’m sorry, but…,” or “excuse me sir…”
  2. Don’t engage. Harassers may try to respond to your firm response. They may try to engage you in further conversation or even make fun of you. As tempting as it may be get into a verbal war with them, we don’t recommend it. The attention may further feed their abusive behavior.
  3. Keep moving. Once you’ve said your piece, keep it moving. Harassers don’t deserve the pleasure of your company.

There is no “perfect” response, because every situation is different and every person is different. Here are some examples of responses from readers on our blog:

  • Self-defense skills saved Caly from getting raped in El Paso. Now she carries pepper spray wherever she goes.
  • When a man tried to grab her phone out of her hand “to put his number in it,” C from The Twin Cities started running. A kind construction worker walked her home.
  • Ignoring the harasser on the street of Delhi did not work for Saaniya. She threw a rock at him after he asked for a “kissie.”
  • The stalkers disappeared when Sarah, from Alberta, reached a crowded place.
How else can I respond to street harassment?

To reduce your risk of trauma, there are many other ways you can respond that are equally as powerful as a “direct response” on a personal level, and also have the power to change the culture that makes street harassment acceptable to begin with.

Only got five minutes? Here Are some ideas:
  • Share your story of harassment on ihollaback.org or through our free iPhone and Droid apps. Once you’ve told your story, share it with your friends via social media or email and ask them to click the “I’ve Got Your Back” button under your story to show their support.
  • Make a personal pledge to help others if you witness street harassment. Read more information on how to safely intervene, here.
  • Educate your networks about how to respond! Link to this page and connect your friends with ourInvite your Facebook friends to our Facebook page, give @ihollaback a shout-out on Twitter, or go old-skool and just shoot an email out.
  • Keep the movement moving by supporting our work. We are powered by your donations. Be a part of the movement and donate here.
Got a little more time?

Responding as a Bystander

What’s worse than being street harassed? Being street harassed while surrounded by a bunch of strangers who could have done something, but didn’t.

You’ve read the stories, you know who we’re talking about: the “it’s none of my business” guy, the “he doesn’t mean anything by it guy, or the woman who approaches you not to ask if you need help, but to compliment you on your hair.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? We’re partnering up with the bystander program Green Dot to help you intervene when you see street harassment happen – and to celebrate and document your success using our website and apps. Your story will inspire others to provide real-time solutions to street harassment. You’ll also find our new “I’ve Got Your Back” button under each story. You can anonymously click the button, and at the person who shared their story will receive an email saying the number of people who have their back! With each click, you will give others in the Hollaback! community the support they need to keep holla’ing back.

What’s a green dot, and how do I make one happen?

A green dot is just a moment in time when you make a choice to be actively and visibly intolerant of street harassment. A green dot is your chance to show that street harassment sucks and isn’t OK with you, to show targets of street harassment that you’ve got their back, and to show everyone in your life that you expect them to do their part to make the community safer.

Two things are necessary for street harassment to happen: 1) a person or group who chooses to harass someone and 2) a community of bystanders willing to let it happen. When we start replacing moments of bystander inaction with moments when we have each other’s backs, we will make our vision of a daily life without street harassment a reality.

Thinking really hard about how awful street harassment is isn’t going to make it go away. Action is the only thing that will. And once you’ve acted, tell your story on ihollaback.org. You’ll inspire others to take action, and give hope to those who experience street harassment regularly that people like you are out there, and ready to have their backs.

Here are three steps to move from bystander inaction to a bystander IN ACTION! (1) Notice what street harassment looks like, (2) Notice what keeps you from acting, (3) Pick a Green Dot that works for you!

How Do I Know If What I’m Seeing Is Street Harassment?

Here are some giveaways:

  • Comments about someone’s appearance, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
  • Vulgar gestures
  • Sexually explicit comments (e.g. “Hey baby, I’d like a piece of that”)
  • Leering
  • Whistling
  • Barking
  • Kissing noises
  • Following someone
  • Flashing someone or exposing oneself
  • Blocking someone’s path
  • Sexual touching or grabbing (e.g., touching someone’s legs, breasts or butt)
  • Public masturbation

 

 

 

Holy Crud, That’s Awful! I’ve Got to Do Something. But…
  • I’m shy/late/unsure what to do.
  • I don’t want that harasser to touch me or make me the new target. What if no one else has my back?
  • What if I’m calling it wrong? No one else is doing anything.
  • My friends will think I’m a freak if I say anything and that super-cutie sitting across from me definitely won’t ask me out if I make a scene on the subway.
  • Maybe I’m the only one who thinks that’s rude. Maybe the target is actually into it. Am I overreacting?
  • There are a lot of them and only one of me, and if I tell the cops, they may not help.
  • I have to walk this way every day – what if I call them out and run into them again tomorrow?
  • That’s my friend saying those lewd things. I don’t want to piss them off.

It can be really hard to have someone’s back, even when we really want to. The good news is, that doesn’t make you a crappy person – it only makes you human! More good news (that’s right, there’s more) – no matter what makes it hard, there is almost always something you can do that will feel manageable to you!

Badass Bystander Moves: In the Moment
Direct Green Dots
  • “Hey, knock it off”
  • Tell the person you will call the cops if they don’t put that thing away.
  • “Are you ok”
  • Go stand next to the person being targeted so they know they are not alone.
  • Ask the target, “Are they bothering you?”
  • Take a picture with your phone
  • Look disapprovingly at the person doing the harassing behavior
  • Offer to get off at the next stop with the target and catch the next train together.
  • “Get away from her/him”
  • Don’t join in or laugh.
  • Loudly say “ugh, that is so gross”
  • Talk to your friend later about why you thought what they did or said was uncool
  • Ask the target if there is anything you can do to help
  • Tell the harasser you saw some cops on the corner and you are worried they will get in
  • trouble if they don’t stop.
  • Tell the target that the harassing behavior wasn’t ok and you are sorry it happened.
Delegate Green Dots
  • Find the supervisor on the construction site
  • Call the police
  • Tell a transit authority worker
  • Yell “Somebody do something!!!!!”
  • Get a group together to intervene
  • Text a friend who is on the subway with you and ask them to HELP!
  • Make eye contact with some other bystanders and ask, “What should we do to help?”
Distract Green Dots
  • Ask for directions
  • Offer the target your seat
  • Start a flash mob
  • Act like you know the target and say “I’ve been looking everywhere for you – we have to hurry to meet our other friends”
  • Drop your bags to create a commotion
  • “Accidentally” spill your coffee

* A note about safety: We don’t ever want you to get hurt trying to help someone out. Always think about safety and consider possibilities that are unlikely to put you in harm’s way.

BADASS BYSTANDER MOVES: IN My Daily Life

Only got five minutes? Here’s what you can do to help:

  • Hollaback! and share your story of harassment on ihollaback.org.
  • Have people’s backs, virtually. Read some of the Hollaback blog posts and let folks know you’ve got their back.
  • Educate your networks! Tell your Facebook friends why you think street harassment is a problem. Give your twitter followers suggestions on how they can intervene.
  • Share the love on social media. The more people out there that know we exist, the faster we can work to end street harassment. Invite your Facebook friends to our Facebook page, give @ihollaback a shout-out on your Twitter feed, or go old-skool and just shoot an email out to all your besties to tell them about Hollaback!
  • Make a personal pledge to do your part to have people’s back if you ever see street harassment.
  • Any time you see someone doing a green dot tell them you think they’re AWESOME!
BADASS BYSTANDER MOVES: Longer-Term Action

Got a lot more time?

  • Launch a Hollaback! in your town. Click here for more details.
  • Organize an action using our Holla! How-To guides.
  • Perform research. Part of the problem with street harassment is that it’s invisible. Change the game by pulling together a study of street harassment using an online survey tool, like SurveyMonkey, in your town. We’ll publish the results.

No one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something. We all can do our part to have each other’s backs.

Background on Green Dot’s Got Your Back campaign

The specific application of Green Dot to street harassment is a collaborative between the awesome folks at Hollaback and the Green Dot, etc. team.