What is street harassment?

Street harassment occurs in public settings and restricts a person’s sense of safety. Impacting on self-worth, street harassment takes many different forms, and is generally sexual in nature. While street harassment can make you feel small or intimidated, there are different things you can do to manage the impacts of street harassment.

Read this if: 

  • You want to know more about street harassment
  • You have experienced street harassment
  • You have witnessed street harassment
  •  If you want to support a target of street harassment 

street harassment

What is street harassment?

Street harassment is an action that causes someone to feel uncomfortable and threatened in a public place. Street harassment is generally sexually driven in nature and includes different behaviours that reduce the target's value as a person. For example, street harassment often reduces a target's value to how they look, or their perceived gender.

As with most forms of harassment, street harassment is centered on power and control. Harassers aim to gain the upper hand by minimising the sense of control of the target. Street harassment is often overlooked as a serious form of bullying or sexual harassment. But it's important to remember that street harassment is NOT a compliment. It's a behaviour intended, often subconsciously, for the benefit of the perpetrator. 

Street harassment can cause a person to feel unsafe because of the implicit ‘I am not in control of this situation’ message that is sent to the target. Women between the ages of 12-25 are most likely to be targets. Though it is much more rare for a male to be the target of street harassment, men can be targeted too.

What are the different kinds of street harassment?

  • Verbal harassment: Verbal behaviours that make the target feel unsafe. Examples include catcalling, wolf whistling, horn honking and verbal threats. 
  • Stalking: Behaviours that intimidate the target through non-verbal and physical means. For example following, staring, or blocking paths.
  • Physical: Any time that the harasser touches the target with or without force. Examples fall on a spectrum and can be anything from touching, shoving and hitting, to sexual assault. 
While there are different kinds of street harassment, it's important to remember that all types of harassment are serious.

Managing the impacts of street harassment

The way you choose to respond to street harassment is completely up to you. Because of the power and control behind street harassment, it’s really important that however you react in the situation is what’s comfortable for you. Some people choose to respond and tell the harasser that what they’ve done is not okay. Others choose to ignore it and move on. Both are okay options as long as you feel safe and comfortable with your choice.

If you witness street harassment, you can help by speaking directly to the target and making your presence known. By ignoring the harasser, you're handing power back to the target and letting them know that they have support. This makes it clear that the harasser's actions are not okay.

If street harassment is having lasting impacts that make you change your behaviours to feel safe, speak with someone you trust. Professional help is also available- street harassment is serious and the concern you feel because of it is valid. 

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 17 January, 2017
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  • FionaLorraine    (767 days ago)

    This helped me out a lot with how to deal with the more aggressive types of perpetrators. I will definitely reflect back on this information. Thanks!