Toolkit: How you could respond to street harassment
There is no one ‘right’ way to deal with harassers. Every situation and person is different and often you only have a second or two to assess your safety and decide what to do.
If you feel safe enough to do so, you can assertively respond to harassers calmly, firmly, and without insults or personal attacks to let them know that their actions are unwelcome, unacceptable, and wrong.
Here are some ideas for strategies you can consider and choose to use when you are faced with harassment. Practice, role-playing, and brainstorming responses ahead of time can help, too!
Name the behaviour and state that it is wrong (“Don’t whistle at me, that’s harassment” or “Don’t touch me, that’s sexual harassment”)
Tell them exactly what you want them to do (“move away from me,” “stop touching me,” “go and stand over there”)
Make an all-purpose anti-harassment statement, such as: “Stop harassing women. I don’t like it. No one likes it. Show some respect” or “don’t harass me”. Speak it in a neutral but assertive tone then leave
Ask them if they would want their loved ones treated like they are treating you
Use an A-B-C statement (and be very concrete about A and C): Tell the harasser what the problem is; State the effect; and What you want. For example: “When you make those noises at me it makes me feel uncomfortable. I want you to say, ‘Hello’ if you want to talk to me or other women”
Ask them to repeat themselves or explain themselves. Ask a Socratic question such as: “That’s so interesting – can you explain why you think you can put your hand on my leg?”
Shame them: “I can’t believe you said that, how rude!” Use the ’Miss Manners’ Approach and ask the harasser something like, “I beg your pardon!” or “I can’t believe you said that,” or “You must have me confused with someone to whom you think you can speak that way,” combined with facial expressions of shock, dismay, and disgust
Loudly announce to passersby what the harasser just said or did. Identify the perpetrator: “Man in the yellow shirt, stop touching me” (this is especially useful if other people are nearby, such as on public transport)
Attack the behaviour, not the person. Tell them what they are doing that you do not like (“You are standing too close”) rather than blaming them as a person (“You are such an idiot”)
Buy a notebook and write in bold letters on the cover “Street Harassment.” Take out the notebook when you are harassed and ask the harasser to repeat himself so you can write it down. Make a big show of asking for the date, time, checking the place you are at, etc. If they ask why you’re writing things down, you can say you are keeping a record of harassment
Take out a pen and paper and start interviewing them. Tell the harasser that you are conducting a street harassment research project or survey – take out a notebook and start asking them questions such as, “How often do you do this?” or “How do you choose which people to harass?” or “Are you more likely to do this when you are alone or when you’re with other people,” or “Do you discuss people you harass with your mother, sister, or female friends?”
If speaking feels too scary, you can also hand the harasser information about harassment. Bristol Zero Tolerance have developed local Call Out Cards which you can order from us. There are also some other examples from Cards Against Harassment, and Stop Street Harassment.
You can use strong body language and an assertive tone. There is no need to apologise to them. Leave immediately or get help if you feel unsafe.
How to respond to drive-by harassment:
If the harasser is in a car, write down the number plate of the car. Even if you can’t see it, pretending to write it down can scare the perpetrator into stopping. If the harassers are aggressive or threatening and you do write down the number plate, you can report them to the police if you want to. You can take photographs of any vehicles or people if you feel safe to and this is not illegal if a crime has been committed.
You could report it to their employer:
If the harassers work for an identifiable company, (e.g. name on a van, work clothes) call or write to the company to let them know that their employees are harassing people on the job. If possible, let them know the location and the time of day that the employee was harassing you so they can better identify which employee it was and hold them responsible for their actions. They will not want employees harassing potential customers or damaging their businesses reputation. Even threatening to report harassers to their company can make a difference.