What Is Street Harassment & How to Deal With It

By: Keely Lombardi

 “Ayyyye, you’re so fine, let me take you home.”

“Hey sugar, I can show you something sweet.”

“You’re so pretty, why don’t you smile for me!”

Street Harassment, like catcalling, is typically directed at a passerby due to perceived sex, gender, sexual oriental and gender expression. “Street Harassment includes unwanted whistling, leering, sexist, homophobic or transphobic slurs, persistent requests for someone’s name, number or destination after they’ve said no, sexual names, comments and demands, following, flashing, public masturbation, groping, sexual assault and rape”(1).  However, street harassment isn’t just catcalling; it comes in many forms from gender-based comments, to gestures, to actions elicited on a stranger in a public space without consent.

Often, the route of the problem isn’t the perpetrators aggravation with the victim, but rather the assertion of their dominance and performance of “masculine” acts to assert power. The act of making women uncomfortable and asserting dominance allows the creation of a power dynamic for a man in a public space.

Street harassment has long been argued as compliments, especially if the harassment is verbal. Contrarily, verbal street harassment is a way to intimidate women who walk freely demonstrating their fundamental freedoms. However, this creation of a power dynamic through harassment “limits women’s [and LGBTQIA+ people] freedom to get an education, to work, to participate in politics- or to simply enjoy their own neighborhoods” (2). Harassment makes it even more difficult for women to go about their everyday lives without being sexualized, frightened or disturbed. Harassment at the very least can make a woman uncomfortable, but at the very worst can lead to a woman’s death.

In recent years, there has been a larger recognition of street harassment as a serious problem and initiatives have been launched to combat it. UN women started the “Safe Cities” global initiative in 2013 in order to make urban communities a safer place for women and girls. This action by the UN took shape just a year after the shooting of Pakistani schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, and countless other acts of harassment that led to serious harm and death of women across the globe. ( 3). The “Safe Cities” initiative has encouraged individual cities to find various solutions for street harassment problems. Residents in cities with this imitative have begun to build awareness, report crimes, and worked with police to improve public safety. 

In Pittsburgh, street harassment doesn’t cease to exist, but like every other city, remains a problem and hazard for young women, especially students. If you feel comfortable enough, are in a safe place, and it is day-time you can respond to your harasser calmly, firmly, and without insults. Inform them that their actions and words are unwelcome and wrong. By addressing the harasser calmly and firmly you are forcing them to see you as a human-being instead of an obscure idea with the potential to be objectified for personal enjoyment. You can also report to police or transit workers to force the harasser to reap real consequences for their actions. If you have access to a smart phone you can use the HollaBack app (4) to report your street harasser.

Photo Credit: Cover Photo,1 , 2, 3

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4