Most people start experiencing street harassment when they are teenagers. Learn how to respond to harassment in public spaces

Most people start experiencing street harassment when they are teenagers. Learn how to respond to harassment in public spaces

Written by: Gillian - TeenSource Intern 

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual Assault

Have you ever dressed differently because you were afraid of being catcalled? Walked with earphones even though you weren’t listening to music? Purposefully changed your route to avoid a group of people standing on the sidewalk?

Sexual assault doesn’t just happen in dark back alleys, it happens daily, in the bright sunlight of busy city streets, walking home through a park, shopping with friends at the mall. Wolf whistles, comments about a person’s body or the way they dress, groping… the list of ways people get harassed every day is long. Street harassment is one of the least recognized forms of sexual assault, but it’s the one that happens the most often: 65% of women and 25% of men report being victims in the United States, while LGBTQ+ and People of Color are more likely to be preyed on. Men are the most common harassers of all genders.

So what should you do if you get catcalled, followed or inappropriately touched in public? Here are some suggestions on how to deal with street harassment, but remember that ultimately, how you respond and what works for you is totally personal! These are geared towards the targets of street harassment, but if you are with a harasser, it is equally as important that you bring up to them how their actions are not only the opposite of a compliment, but can be degrading and actually cause harm to someone by making them uncomfortable.  

Here are some suggestions:

#1: Just keep walking and don’t engage your harasser
This strategy can either be easy or difficult. You may even feel like screaming at the person objectifying you. Truth is though, if the person doing the harassing doesn’t get a reaction out of you, they may just stop at this point. It may be easier to walk on by and not pay attention to this behavior. Maybe after ignoring them and walking away, they will realize this is not an effective way to communicate and/or get attention.

#2: Let the harasser know this behavior is not appropriate
First thing, it is important to assess the safety of the situation. Take into consideration the following: are you are alone, is the harasser physically close to you, are there others around you who can support you? Sometimes, just being very clear that the harasser’s behavior is not cool and will not be tolerated is enough to make them stop. Try making eye contact and firmly telling them that their comments and actions are unacceptable and constitute sexual harassment. There is always an option to report the harasser to authorities, here is an example of what this could look like.

#3: Share your experience
Remember to take care of your safety and mental health in the face of street harassment. Writing about what happened to you can be healing, and platforms like Hollaback! and Stop Street Harassment allow you to anonymously share your experience and how you coped with peers around the world. If you’re not comfortable sharing your story with others, consider reading about others’ experiences, it can help you feel less alone.

If you would like to share your experience with street harassment with other TeenSource readers, shoot us an email with a draft of your blog post at teensource@essentialaccess.org. We’d love to hear from you!