So what is Street Harassment, exactly?

Need some help recognizing street harassment?

Maybe you have heard this term being used a lot lately, likely due to the fact that it is International Anti Street Harassment Week, and so it seems to be on everyone’s radar. Maybe you aren’t super clear on what IS street harassment and what is just “being friendly.” There is a difference. Lets talk about it.

Firstly, a definition with some help from the people at Green Dot Etc. :

Street Harassment is a form of power-based violence.


Power based personal violence is a form of violence that has as a primary motivator, the assertion of power, control, and / or intimidation in order to harm another. This includes partner violence, sexual assault, and stalking and other uses of force, threat, intimidation or harassment of an individual.


You’re maybe familiar with a similar sounding term –sexual harassment? Well, street harassment is a form of sexual harassment that takes place in public spaces. At its core is a power dynamic that constantly reminds historically subordinated groups (women and LGBTQ2 folks, for example) of their vulnerability to assault in public spaces. Further, it reinforces the ubiquitous sexual objectification of these groups in everyday life. Street harassment can be sexist, racist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist, sizeist and/or classist. It is an expression of interlocking and overlapping oppressions and it functions as a means to silence our voices and “keep us in our place.”

So how does this play out in our streets, busses, parks and other public spaces?

Street Harassment can look like:

  • Vulgar Gestures
  • Sexually Explicit Comments (e.g., “Hey baby, I’d like a piece of that”)
  • Leering
  • Whistling
  • Barking
  • Kissing Noises
  • Following someone
  • Flashing someone or exposing oneself
  • Blocking someone’s path
  • Sexual touching or grabbing (e.g., touching someone’s legs, breasts or butt)
  • Public masturbation
  • Comments about someone’s appearance, gender, sexual orientation, etc

If you are seeing this things like this, and still aren’t sure if you are witnessing harassment, it’s a good idea to look at the person on the receiving end of the actions. Their body language may be telling of how they are reacting to the exchange. It is totally appropriate to check in and ask the person being targeted “Are you ok?” Our next blog post will talk more about how to intervene, so stay tuned for that.

Unwanted attention like this isn’t a compliment. Compliments generally don’t make the receiver think about taking a new route to work, make them feel totally uncomfortable, or cause concern for their safety.

 If it’s a compliment, it’s not harassment. But we understand that Vancouver has a reputation for already being unfriendly city, and it can be hard to figure out how to talk to strangers. Knowing this, you may want some more guidance so as not to offend.

So here we go: if a person approaches another person in public politely, strikes up a conversation with them, receives a clear rejection and respects their wishes, that’s not harassment.

Street harassment happens when words and actions are obviously unwanted and non-consensual. It’s forceful. It’s dehumanizing. It’s propelled by a sense of entitlement and profound disrespect for others. Perpetrators don’t want to give compliments or forge mutually beneficial connections; they want to intimidate and bully others. They resort to insults, stalking, threats or acts of violence when told to leave.

That being said – there are many different ways to initiate conversation without coming off as a creep! Comments on a shared experiences (“this coffee is great”), conspicuous books (“I haven’t read that yet, is it any good?”), or current events or other topics that don’t reduce another person to their parts, are examples of friendly, non-threatening places to start.

This being said – please keep in mind, you may not have created this world of street harassment, but you’re living in it. And the object of your affection has been socialized in it. So if your flirting is met with resistance, hesitation, or downright rudeness, don’t take it personally.   Just say sorry, keep it moving, and remember the 80% of the 811 women Holly Kearl surveyed who said they constantly have to look over their shoulder. The 50% who have to cross the street and find alternate paths to their ultimate destinations. The 45% who feel as if they can’t go in public alone and the 26% who feel as if they have to lie about a significant other to get perpetrators to leave them alone. The 19% who had to move and the 9% who needed to completely change jobs just to avoid street harassment. And if the rejection pisses you off, take it out on the harassers and get involved.



Join the #itsnotacompliment conversation on twitter 


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Works Cited / to read more

Green Dot Inc


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