~ en español ~

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.

Here are seven ideas for strategies you can consider and choose from when you are faced with harassment. Practice, role-playing, and brainstorming responses ahead of time can help, too!

1. Respond: If you feel safe enough to do so, assertively respond to the harassers calmly, firmly, and without insults or personal attacks to let them know that their actions are unwelcome, unacceptable, and wrong. Here is advice from Martha Langelan on dealing with drive-by harassers. Here are seven ideas (en espanol).

2. Hand the Harasser a Flyer: If speaking feels too scary, you can also hand the harasser information about harassment. Here are some examples from Cards Against Harassment, Appetite for Equal Rights, Street Harassment Project, graduate student Sarah VanDenbergh, and Stop Street Harassment (Not Hey Baby, Show Respect 1 | 2, Wait a Minute 1 | 2, Picking up Women 1 | 2).

3. Step In: Intervene when someone else is being harassed to help them out of the situation and let the harasser know that their actions are not condoned by others. Ask them if they want help and what they’d like you to do or simply check in to see if they’re okay. Men engaging in this tactic can be particularly powerful since men (majority of street harassers) look to other men for approval. Check out this great bystander campaign from the University of New Hampshire.

4. Report to Employer: If the harassers work for an identifiable company, call or write the company to let them know that their employees are harassing people on the job and why that is unacceptable. (Here are three examples submitted to this blog about how women successfully did this. Even threatening to report harassers to their company can make a difference.)

5. Report to Police or Transit Workers: Take actions that will create real consequences for the harasser, such as reporting the person to a police officer or other person of authority, like a bus driver or subway employee. If you’re in the USA, here is a Know Your Rights Toolkit with state-by-state laws. If you’re in Washington, DC, report harassers on the transit system via www.wmata.com/harassment.

6. Report with your Phone: If you have a smart phone and are in the U.S., download the HollaBack phone app and report your street harasser and if you are in Egypt, use HarassMap to report harassers via SMS texting. In India, use Safecity’s reporting portal.

7. Take Creative Action: Respond to harassers in a surprising, creative way.

The Psychology Behind Street Harassment—And How You Can Stop It

Getty Images

Do you remember the first time you were cat called? Over the years, most women will experience men hooting at them from cars, whistling at them on the street, muttering sexually explicit phrases under their breath as they pass by, or copping a feel on the subway. “It’s constant, it’s inescapable, and it’s hard to get away from,” says one young woman featured in a new documentary that aims to bring awareness to the nearly global problem of street harassment.

Mariah Wilson, the producer of Street Harassment: Sidewalk Sleazebags and Metro Molesters, says she and her Vocativ team were inspired to make the short film after hearing Jen Corey, Miss Washington D.C. 2009, speak about a terrifying experience she had where a man followed her, trapped her, and masturbated against her-all on a crowded metro car during rush hour. “I started to dart my eyes around, looking for help, silently screaming for anyone to help me,” she says. No one did.

Harassment can be terrifying-and you’re right to be scared. “Street harassment is on the spectrum of sexual violence and on occasion, it does escalate into sexual violence,” says Holly Kearl, founder of Stop Street Harassment and author of two books on the topic.

Corey’s story is sadly familiar. “There are still misconceptions that only certain women are harassed and that it’s ‘just’ whistling or ‘nice legs’ type comments,” she says. But any woman can become a target regardless of age, race, clothing, makeup, or other physical characteristics, which is why Wilson shot part of the documentary using a camera hidden on a girl walking down the street-to give viewers a personal perspective of what’s it’s like.

RELATED: The App That Makes Sure You Get Home Safely

And just like there isn’t only one type of woman who gets harassed, there isn’t just one reason men have for doing what they do. “Street harassment is a symptom of other forms of inequality: sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, classism, and so forth. And a consistent factor is they feel able to because women are valued and respected less in our society than are men,” Kearl says. She adds that guys may harass women as a power play (for example, to keep them away from a basketball court that men want to use). Men may also see it as a joke, or could be doing it for sexual gratification (like men who flash or publicly masturbate). In addition, they may just be acting out what they’ve seen other men do, be pressured into it, or do it because they think she’s “asking for it,” she says.

One way to fight street harassment? Talk about it. “I want women to know it’s okay to speak up, and tell your harasser that what they are doing is not okay-provided that you feel safe doing so,” Wilson says.

She adds that she’s a big fan of Hollaback, a website where women can report incidents of street harassment that are then mapped, to show harassment hotspots. Hollaback also collects data on these incidents to bring to elected officials whose districts are especially plagued by harassment, to encourage them to enact legislation to combat the harassment. It’s also important to have other womens’ backs. If you see someone else being harassed, asking if they’re okay can go a long way toward interrupting an incident and helping the person feel supported. It also signals to any other bystanders that this behavior is not okay.

“Street harassment is not trivial, rare, or something that women are ‘asking for,'” Wilson says. “Everyone has the right to feel comfortable and safe in public spaces.”

  • By Charlotte Hilton Andersen

Street harassment ‘relentless’ for women and girls

Image copyright Getty Images

Women and girls across the UK face “relentless” harassment on the street and not enough is being done to stop it, MPs say.

The politicians making up the Women and Equalities Committee looked into the issue for nine months and found the amount of harassment meant it became “normalised” for girls growing up.

The MPs are now calling for the government to take action to tackle it.

The Home Office said the issue was a “key priority”.

  • What’s it like for a woman who’s harassed?

The committee heard evidence that street harassment was widespread, from being shouted at and cat-called through to sexual assaults.

They also heard it took place in a number of public spaces – on transport, in bars and clubs, through online spaces, at universities, in parks and on the street.

‘They call my 12-year-old a slut’

One woman, Sarah, told the BBC her 12-year-old daughter has faced harassment on her school bus – including boys pushing her off her seat, spitting at her, and calling her a slut.

Although the school did take action when Sarah reported the incidents, she said more needed to be done to stop such behaviour being normalised.

“It starts off as a bit of banter between young boys and girls but quickly can grow into something more concerning,” she said.

“It’s an indication of how boys think they can treat girls. If they think it’s acceptable at that age what will they be like when they are older?”

Committee chairwoman Maria Miller said: “Women feel the onus is put on them to avoid ‘risky’ situations – all of this keeps women and girls unequal.”

The report concluded that social attitudes underpinned sexual harassment, and the normalisation of it contributed to a “wider negative cultural effect on society”.

And while the government has pledged to eliminate sexual harassment of women and girls by 2030, the committee said there was “no evidence of any programme to achieve this”.

Next steps

The report outlined seven key recommendations to tackle street harassment:

  • Force train and bus operators to take tougher action against sexual harassment and block the viewing of pornography on public transport
  • Ban all non-consensual sharing of intimate images
  • Publish a new “Violence Against Women and Girls” strategy
  • Create a public campaign to change attitudes
  • Take an evidence-based approach to addressing the harms of pornography, along the lines of road safety or anti-smoking campaigns
  • Tougher laws to ensure pub landlords take action on sexual harassment – and make local authorities consult women’s groups before licensing strip clubs
  • Make it a legal obligation for universities to have policies outlawing sexual harassment

What to do if you are harassed

Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption’I’ve been harassed on the street, on buses and in bars’

Hollaback! – an international movement tackling harassment – says there is no right or wrong way to respond.

It says the most important thing is to get yourself out of the situation if you feel unsafe.

But if you choose to speak directly to the assailant, it offers the following advice:

  1. Be firm: Look them in the eye and denounce their behaviour with a strong, clear voice
  2. Say what feels natural: The important thing is that you are not apologetic in your response
  3. Don’t engage: Harassers may try to argue with you or dismiss you through further conversation or by making fun of you. As tempting as it may be get into a verbal war with them, it is not recommended. The attention may feed their abusive behaviour
  4. Keep moving: Once you’ve said your piece, keep moving. Harassers do not deserve the pleasure of your company

Read more: What should you do if you are harassed?

The Home Office said it had pledged £100m in funding until 2020 to help local services combat violence against women and girls.

And it said it was working on an updated “Violence Against Women and Girls” strategy.

  • ‘Third of girls’ harassed in school uniform
  • France issues first street harassment fine
  • Nearly half of young women harassed at festivals

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Unwelcome advances that intimidate, degrade or humiliate women and girls are an abuse of power and unlawful. Whether in the home, the workplace or in public, sexual harassment is unacceptable.

“The government has made protecting women and girls from all forms of violence, and supporting victims and survivors a key priority.”

She said the Home Office would consider the report’s recommendations before publishing a full response.

Reality Check: What is the law on harassment?

There’s no specific law against sexual harassment in public in the UK – but there are laws prohibiting lots of behaviour that might be considered harassment.

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 makes it an offence to cause “alarm or distress” or put people “in fear of violence”.

There are also laws against stalking.

If street harassment crosses the line into unwanted touching, that can then be dealt with as a sexual offence such as sexual assault.

And when it comes to watching pornography on public transport, there is a pre-internet era law criminalising the public display of “indecent matter” – but the parliamentary inquiry described this as “little-known and likely to be little-used”.

Responding When You’re STREET Harassed

The truth is, there is no right or wrong way to respond to street harassment, because it isn’t your fault. How you respond is your decision.

Before we launched Hollaback!, we tried every strategy in the book to confront street harassers directly – we yelled at them, scolded them, educated them – but it never seemed to work. We eventually decided that our attempts to be “one-woman street harassment education machines” weren’t hitting this issue at its root. To end street harassment, we had to change the culture that made it acceptable to begin with. Cultural shifts start with people coming forward to boldly share their stories, and story by story we’ve been building the case since 2005 for why street harassment – and harassment in all public spaces – matters.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, “Sexual harassment often has a serious and negative impact on women’s physical and emotional health, and the more severe the harassment, the more severe the reaction. The reactions frequently reported by women include anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, weight loss or gain, loss of appetite, and headaches. Researchers have also found that there is a link between sexual harassment and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

Our research shows that responding to harassment reduces its emotional impact – but how you respond is your choice. You can decide to respond directly to people who harass you, or choose to respond by taking action against the culture that makes harassment acceptable. We’ve got some examples of both below.

But first, what is STREET harassment?

According to The Advocates for Human Rights, street harassment is, quite simply, “unwelcome or unwanted verbal, non-verbal, physical or visual conduct based on sex or of a sexual nature which occurs with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person.” It can also be based on race, disability, class, gender identity, or other social identities, and serves to remind marginalized populations of our vulnerability to assault in public space.

Examples of STREET harassment:

  • Sexually explicit, racist, ableist, transphobic, and other derogatory comments
  • Unwelcome comments about your appearance, accent, sexuality, etc.
  • Leering, making vulgar gestures, flashing you, or exposing oneself
  • Threatening to remove an item of clothing, for example your hijab
  • Claiming that you don’t have the right to be in a public space
  • Whistling, barking, or kissing noises
  • Following you or blocking your path
  • Sexual touching or grabbing
  • Public masturbation


Trust Your Instincts. Listen to what your gut is telling you. There is no “right” or “perfect” response to harassment; however, studies show that having some kind of response (either in the moment or later) can reduce the trauma associated with harassment. If you decide to respond, do it for you

Remember it’s OK to do nothing. It’s even ok to smile and keep walking. You get to decide what’s right for you.


This one is optional; your safety is the first priority. If you feel safe and choose to have a response, here are three approaches:

  1. Set the Boundary. Tell the person harassing you exactly what you want them to do and why. Look them in the eye and denounce their behavior with a strong, clear voice. Many people prefer to name the behavior. For example, you can say, “Do not , that’s harassment.” You can also simply say “that is not okay” or “don’t speak to me like that.” Say what feels natural to you. The important thing is that you aren’t apologetic in your response, and that you don’t engage with them after you set the boundary. Oftentimes, people who harass may try to argue with you or dismiss you through further conversation or by making fun of you. As tempting as it may be get into a verbal war with them, we don’t recommend it. The attention may further feed their abusive behavior and cause the situation to escalate. Once you’ve said your piece, keep it moving.
  2. Engage bystanders. Tell them what’s going on and what they can do to help. Not all bystanders have been trained to respond, but typically people do understand that street harassment is not okay and they want to help you, so what can you do to ask for that help? You will need to loudly announce to people around you what the harasser just said or did and identify them, like: “That man in the red shirt is following me. I need help!” Then tell people what you want them to do, like, “Can you wait here with me? Can you call the police?” Remember that it is okay to ask for help, it does not mean that you are weak, in fact, it means that you are strong because you’re acknowledging that street harassment, in fact, hurts.
  3. Document the situation. If you feel safe, consider taking a picture or video of your experience — or asking a bystander to do this. This could include the person harassing you, their license plate, or the scene. Some people use photos or videos to report an incident — for example if the person was at work when this happened people may choose to report it to their employer. Others use it to share their story on social media or anonymously through ihollaback.org. Many find it to be empowering to turn the lens off of them and onto the person harassing them. It often has the potential to be hugely transformative. If it feels right to you then do it. It doesn’t work that way for everyone so ask yourself, “Does it feel right for me?” or “Is there another way to respond?”


There is no such thing as a perfect response, this is not your fault, and you are not alone. Take the time to recover and employ strategies for taking care of yourself. Here are some ways to respond:

  • Develop a quick ritual to do every time harassment happens, like, “shaking it off.”
  • Have a buddy you text every time harassment happens.
  • Say an affirmation to yourself, like “I don’t let the haters bring me down. I deserve better. I’m awesome!”
  • Share your story with trusted loved ones.

The idea here is that you want you to develop resilience so that you can get out there and keep being you in the world. Some people want to take it to the next level and prevent this happening. Do do that, we need to change the culture that makes harassment a “normal” part of everyday life. Here are some ideas on how to do that:

  • Share your story of harassment on this website or through our free iPhone and Droid apps. Once you’ve told your story, share it with your friends via social media or email and ask them to click the “I’ve Got Your Back” button to show their support.
  • Make a personal pledge to help others if you witness harassment. What’s worse than being targeted for harassment because of your race, sex, religion, gender, size, disability, religion, or origin? Being targeted while surrounded by a bunch of strangers who choose to remain passive bystanders. We’ve got a wealth of resources to help you become an effective, active bystander.
  • Educate your networks about how to respond! Link to this page and connect your friends with our work and resources. Invite your Facebook friends to our Facebook page, give @ihollaback a shout-out on Twitter, or find us on instagram @ihollagram.
  • Keep the movement moving by supporting our work. We are powered by your donations. Be a part of the movement and donate here.
  • Take action! Review our Holla! How-To guides for tips on conducting community safety audits and research, hosting film screenings and workshops, and more.

You’re awesome. And we’ve got your back.

Whether to report street harassment can be a difficult choice. You may feel that what happened to you wasn’t that serious, worry that police won’t believe you or won’t do anything about it, or that, for a variety of reasons, you’ll face more harassment by engaging police than by just getting on with your life.

At Stop Street Harassment, we believe that however you respond to street harassment — whether you report it, ignore it, or deal with the harasser directly — is a valid choice; there is no best way to deal with harassers. But if you choose to report street harassment — especially serious violations like indecent exposure, following, or groping — there can be several positive outcomes.

Reasons to Report

* It can give you a sense of justice and empowerment.

* It may prevent future acts of harassment or more severe crimes.

* It can help raise awareness about how upsetting and inappropriate street harassment really is.

When to Report

You can report an act of street harassment as it happens, by calling 911 on the scene, or after the incident.

* The chances that a street harasser will be apprehended are greatest during and immediately after the incident.

* But if you decide later that something should be reported, you can still call your local police non-emergency number or file a report online.

What to Report

To make reporting easier — and to increase the chances that police take you seriously — on each state page we’ve provided the names of each crime that applies to street harassment so that you can give police the most exact information possible. For example, you can say, “I’d like to report someone for disorderly conduct,” or “sexual battery.”

If you do report an incident of street harassment or think you might want to report it later, it helps to:

* Make sure you’re safe before you do anything else.

* Take a deep breath. Try to stay calm. Street harassment is never your fault, and you’re doing the right thing.

* If the crime you’re reporting is in progress, call 911. If it has already happened, call your local non-emergency number.

* Ask anyone who saw the incident — whether a friend or a stranger — if s/he would be willing serve as a witness for police. Take down his or her contact information and include it in your report.

* Write down everything you remember, including the time and place of the incident, what the harasser did and said, and a physical description of the harasser (eye color, hair color, approximate height and build, age, etc.). Details can fade from your mind quickly, so even if you aren’t sure you’ll report something, it’s a good idea to make thorough notes of what happened.

* If you do speak to an officer, try not to be intimidated. It’s his or her job to ask you a lot of questions. Do your best to answer them, and know that you can always follow up with more information later.

* If an officer does ask what you were wearing, why you were out alone, or another irrelevant or victim-blaming question, it’s ok to (politely) say, “I don’t think that’s relevant, sir/ma’am. The harasser was wearing…”

Also, it’s important to note that many states have provisions that punish repeated behavior more severely. You may not know when a street harasser is a repeat offender, or is about to become one.

* Many states also punish street harassment and sexual harassment more severely if the offender is a government employee or the victim is a minor.

* If you are under 18 or you witness harassment of a young person or child, this is important information to report to the police.

Return to the Street Harassment and the Law Landing Page >

About Jamie Utt

You’re not describing harassment in the context of a wider system of oppression and degradation of your gender.

You’re not describing harassment in the context of rape culture.

So the next time that a woman in your life trusts you enough to describe her frustration with leering and cat calling, the single best thing you can do is listen.

Though you’ll never fully understand, try. Offer your support and your listening ear.

And then do something to end street harassment so that she doesn’t have to experience it any more.

3. Hold Men Accountable When They Harass Women on the Street

It’s not enough to refuse to participate in street harassment. We have to hold other men accountable for their words and their actions.

So how do we do that? Well, there are about 1 million ways. But to make it simple, we can call men out, and we can call men in.

Calling men out is simply expressing through a short, pointed statement that their behavior is unacceptable.

It accomplishes a few things: it interrupts the harassment while it’s happening, giving the target reprieve, and it calls the man to think a little more critically about his behavior and its effect on his target.

Calling men out has the intended effect of removing the social approval that allows men to act in this way.

Calling men in is a bit more difficult, but it has the potential to be far more transformative.

Calling men in requires inviting a conversation (often a difficult one) about why street harassment is oppressive and hurtful and why it must be stopped.

Open-ended questions like, “Why do you do that when ze clearly doesn’t like it?” or “Do you realize that women hate being hollered at in that way?” are more likely to invite a critical conversation about street harassment, and such conversations are more likely to ensure reflection and transformation.

Still not sure what it looks like to call men out or in? Check out this fantastic resource.

4. Talk to Boys and Young Men about Respecting All People’s Bodily Autonomy

Aside from interrupting street harassment, if we want to put an end to this behavior once and for all, we have to break the cycle.

And that means that we must teach our young boys and men differently than we’ve been taught.

From the earliest of ages, we have to teach children (but especially boys) to understand and respect other people’s bodily autonomy. That means that when kids don’t want to be touched, we respect that, and we teach them to respect that with other people.

As boys grow older, it is important that we talk to them about the images they see in the media. They must understand that despite nearly every message they get on TV and in magazines and movies, women’s bodies are not public property.

We must teach them to talk with respect about girls and women and to highlight and value the female-identified folks in their lives for reasons aside from physical appearance.

And most importantly, any time young people are exposed to street harassment, we need to talk to them about it. With young boys and men, that means that we have conversations about what they saw and why it’s wrong.

If we can teach young people from an early age just how wrong this type of behavior is and if we model positive alternatives, we can transform our neighborhoods, towns, cities, and wider communities.

In short: Breaking the cycle means ending street harassment.


Want more ideas of how men can stop street harassment? Check out this awesome resource list from StopStreetHarassment.org.

Want to discuss this further? Login to our online forum and start a post! If you’re not already registered as a forum user, please register first here.

Jamie Utt is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. Jamie is a diversity and inclusion consultant and sexual violence prevention educator based in Minneapolis, MN. He lives with his loving partner and his funtastic dog. He blogs weekly at Change from Within. Learn more about his work at his website here and follow him on Twitter @utt_jamie. Read his articles here and book him for speaking engagements here.

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No ‘right way’ to deal with street harassment but here are tips, experts say

It can be a catcall or a whistle. It can happen at the library, grocery store, park or crosswalk — street harassment is still a problem that plagues women, girls and gender non-confirming individuals.

“I think one of the most common ways that people experience it is through things like catcalling, people yelling remarks from cars, whistling, saying things about peoples’ bodies,” said TK Pritchard, the public education manager at the Waterloo region’s sexual assault support centre.

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Pritchard said harassment can also be someone following another individual home or to the place they’re going to.

“Just a lot of ways that make people uncomfortable when they’re moving through public spaces,” he said.

‘A daily experience’ for women and girls

Anita Roberts, the founder of Safeteen — an organization focusing on violence prevention and education based in Vancouver — said harassment is “a daily experience for the vast majority of girls and women.”Anita Roberts is the founder of SAFETEEN, a violence prevention and education organization based in Vancouver, BC. (Submitted by SAFETEEN)

“It’s a daily experience of being assessed,” she said.

“They’re…being catcalled, being rated from one to ten, having to deal with the most gross gestures, words, sneers, approaches from men on the street to and from wherever they’re going in their lives,” said Roberts.

Just recently, a 22-year-old woman was struck in the face by a man she told to stop harassing her at a coffee shop in Paris.

Roberts said that shows the “entitlement” men can have.

“The whole thing is extremely damaging for girls and women… there’s this addiction to the male gaze,” she said.

Pritchard said street harassment is about power.

“We often see it coming from groups of people, often groups of men in vehicles, yelling from the window, using that power because they think that it’s funny or it shows other men in their lives how manly they are,” he said.

“It’s not a compliment, it’s a use of power that often means people feel scared, uncomfortable, angry or just unsafe in their community.”

No ‘right way’ to respond

Pritchard said there is no “right way” to deal with street harassment.

“The problem is…it happened in the first place,” he said.

TK Pritchard is the public education manager at Waterloo region’s sexual assault support centre. (Submitted by TK Pritchard)”Some people are going to yell back at a person or… continue on and pretend like it’s not happening. There’s a lot of different ways that people are going to, in the moment, process street harassment.”

“There’s no right way to do that, people are going to think about their safety and think about the way that works best for them,” Pritchard said.

Roberts also said there is “no magic” solution that will ensure someone to not act violently, but she’s been delivering workshops to women and girls across the globe to give them assertiveness skills training for nearly 40 years.

“Violence against women is so huge and yet we continue to send our little girls out in the world every day without skills to deal with what might seem like simple harassment, to actually sexual assault,” she said.

Tips and strategies

According to Roberts, here are a few strategies that women can use when street harassment happens to them.

1. Give “the look.” Maintain direct eye contact and a neutral face with the person or persons harassing you. “This look communicates to the person, ‘hello, there’s somebody home, I’m not an object, I’m not comfortable with this. I don’t like it, I don’t want it,” Roberts said.

2. Put your hand up and raise it in front of you to signal stop and show your boundary. “Internationally — it crosses all cultures and boundaries and languages,” said Roberts.

3. Use “I” statements to communicate your message across while maintaining a neutral face and tone. Examples of statements are “I want you to move away from me,” or “I didn’t like that comment.” Repeat your message three times, be clear and be firm. Do not engage or provoke the person harassing you.

And most of all, Roberts said women need to trust their gut instinct.

“I always say if you feel it, face it and don’t ignore it. If he’s sitting too close, you need to turn around, put that hand up and say, ‘I don’t like how close you’re sitting to me,” she said.

“It sounds so simple, but it counters all of our socialization as girls and women so it can be extremely hard to do and practice,” Roberts said.

Bystanders can help

Pritchard said there’s also a role that bystanders can play to help with the situation.

Pritchard said offering support to the person who experienced street harassment can also help.

“Being able to let them know, ‘hey I saw that happen, is there anything I can do for you, I’m really sorry that happened’ — recognizing that as bystanders, there are things we can do,” he said.

Pritchard said those who have experienced harassment can also call the SASC 24-hour support line to share their feelings and talk about their experiences, as well as get access to other resources.

Sexual harassment: What it is and how to cope

Sexual harassment is any unwanted verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. It can make you feel embarrassed, offended, intimidated or unsafe and shouldn’t be ignored.

Sexual harassment can take place anywhere, including at school, at work or out in public, so it’s important to recognize the different types of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment can include:

  • inappropriate staring
  • telling sexual jokes
  • showing or sending unwanted sexual pictures, cartoons or other sexual images (including online)
  • demanding hugs, dates or sexual favours
  • asking questions or talking about someone’s sexuality, sex life or body
  • making unnecessary physical contact, including unwanted touching
  • using language that puts someone down on the basis of their gender
  • spreading sexual rumours (including online)
  • threatening to fire or punish someone if they don’t accept sexual advances (this is known as reprisal)
  • stalking (behaviour that makes someone feel unsafe including unwanted visits, phone calls, texts, emails or letters, leaving gifts or watching someone’s home/school)

If you’re being sexually harassed, remember, it’s not your fault. You’re not responsible for the harasser’s behaviour — no matter what. It’s normal to see physical and emotional side effects from the experience including anxiety, depression, fatigue and insomnia as well as relationship or self-esteem problems.

I’m being sexually harassed — what can I do?

You need to know your rights and options for action if you’re experiencing sexual harassment.

If you’re experiencing sexual harassment, here are some things you can do:

1. Get informed

At school: your school may have a sexual harassment or bullying prevention policy, so consider asking someone in the main office about this.

At work: check your workplace policies and procedures manual. It could tell you your options under labour laws and should include who to contact.

2. Keep a record

Write a detailed description of the incident(s) including what happened, where it occurred, when it took place and if there were any witnesses. If you have any text messages or screenshots of the incident(s), keep them saved.

3. Ask them to stop

This can be scary, but confronting people — even adults in positions of authority — can work. If you feel it’s safe to do so, consider telling the person to stop in a calm but firm manner. Here are some ways you can say stop:

  • “When you look at me like that, I feel really uncomfortable. I’m asking you to stop it.”
  • “I’ve said ‘no’ before when you’ve asked me out, and I’m not going to change my mind. If you don’t stop, I’m going to have to tell the principal (or boss, teacher, etc.) about it.”
  • “I’m going to file a report if you touch me (talk to me, say that, etc.) again.”
  • “Yes, I do have a sense of humour. But what you’re saying isn’t a joke — it’s sexual harassment. If you don’t stop, I’ll need to speak to our boss (teacher, principal, etc.).”

4. Address it

If you’ve tried speaking to the person and they won’t stop, or if you don’t feel safe or comfortable confronting the person, here are some ways you can report the harassment:

At school: you can report harassment to a teacher, principal, vice-principal or guidance counsellor.

At work: you can report harassment to your supervisor, the human resources/personnel manager (if your workplace has one) or your union (if you belong to one). Your options may be informal (they can talk to the person for you or help you write the person a letter) or formal (a formal complaint and investigation). If your employer does not take action, you could file a complaint with the local human rights commission.

If you choose to report sexual harassment at school or at work, it’s a good idea to:

  • ask a friend, co-worker or parent to come with you
  • bring any written records with you
  • ask how you’ll be protected from retaliation after reporting the harassment
  • take notes during the meeting (when it occurred, who was present, the result of the meeting) in case the behaviour continues or you are somehow punished for reporting it

5. Call the police

Some types of sexual harassment are against the law and should be reported to the police. Examples of these situations include:

  • threats of physical harm
  • actual physical harm
  • stalking
  • sexual behaviour toward a minor

6. Change your school or job

Changing your school or job should only be considered as a last resort, in instances where you know you’re unsafe or have tried to stop the behaviour with no success.

Feeling forced away from your school, job or neighbourhood is difficult and it’s OK to feel angry, sad or alone. It’s not fair to you because you have done nothing wrong.

If you’ve had to change your life because of sexual harassment, it’s a good idea to get help as you work through your feelings. Try talking to someone you trust, like a friend, family member or co-worker about what you’re going through.

Need more information or support? You can contact Kids Help Phone 24/7.

  • What is sexual assault?
  • Video: What is consent?
  • Consent: What it is and why it’s important
  • Sexual harassment: What it is and how to cope
  • How to recognize sexual harassment in everyday life
  • How to address sexual harassment when you see it

Dealing with street harassment

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