In 2014, a Youtube video went viral for documenting 10 hours of walking in NYC as a woman. While some found the amount of catcalling in the video surprising, most women who live in urban areas know all too well what it’s like to experience street harassment.
While the federal government prohibits gender-based harassment in the workplace, there are no federal laws banning street harassment. Some states do have their own legislation meant to address the issue, however. You can find a list of street harassment laws by state here.
It’s important to talk about experiences of street harassment because it’s a largely under-researched topic. The studies that have tackled the issue, however, make it clear that it’s a significant problem.
For instance, a 2014 study found that 65% of women in the U.S. had experienced street harassment. Of those women, 23% experienced sexual touching, 20% experienced stalking, and 9% had been sexually assaulted. Men experience street harassment too, especially men who identify as gay, bisexual, and trans.
So what should someone do when street harassment gets out of hand? It’s a matter of personal preference, but safety should always be the first priority. Experts say the most important thing is to keep moving, whatever you do.
It can be highly effective to simply ignore harassers. If you can’t help but to say something, make sure you do it while walking away from the harasser. Whatever you do, don’t engage in conversation.
While people experiencing street harassment can’t do much besides move away from their harassers, bystanders can be powerful allies in situations of public harassment. Check out Hollaback!’s comprehensive guide to bystander intervention here.