Responding to Harassers

Many people think that because our project is called “hollaback,” we endorse yelling at harassers in every circumstance. Not so. Hollaback! was founded because after yelling at harassers, we were left frustrated and angry. Hollaback! thought if victims shared their stories on a blog, it would bring much needed attention to the issue and shift the culture that makes street harassment okay. The strategy seems to be working pretty well so far, but we understand that sometimes you want to do more than just tell your story.

For those times, we’ve adopted this guide from Holly Kearl’s Stop Street Harassment blog, below. Holly has also included ideas from Martha Langelan, Lauren R. Taylor, and Dr. Bernice Sandler. Let us know if you have ideas!

To begin, there is no overall “best” way to respond to every harasser in every circumstance. You have to make that call, and your safety is your first priority. That said, here are a range of ideas for responses you can use that hold harassers accountable for their behavior.


How to talk to a harasser:

  • Always use strong body language: Look the harasser in the eyes; speak in a strong, clear voice. Using your voice, facial expressions, and body language together, without mixed signals, show assertiveness and strength.
  • Project confidence and calm. Even if you do not feel that way, it is important to appear calm, serious, and confident.
  • Do not apologize, make an excuse, or ask a question. You do not need to say sorry for how you feel or what you want. Be firm. Instead of saying, ‘Excuse me…’ ‘I’m sorry, but…’ or ‘Please…’, say directly, ‘Stop doing X.’
  • Do not get into a dialogue with the harasser, try to reason with them, or answer their questions. You do not need to respond to diversions, questions, threats, blaming, or guilt-tripping. Stay on your own agenda. Stick to your point. Repeat your statement or leave.
  • Do not swear or lose your temper: This type of reaction is the most likely to make the harasser respond with anger and violence and it also can make you seem like the one who is crazy or wrong when the harassment happens among a group of people, but no one sees what the harasser did to you.
  • Decide when you’re done. Success is how you define it. If you said what you needed to say and you’re ready to leave, do so.

Ideas for what you can say to a harasser:

  • Name the behaviour and state that it is wrong. For example say, “Do not whistle at me, that is harassment,” or “Do not touch my butt, that is sexual harassment.”
  • Tell them exactly what you want. Say, for example, “move away from me,” “stop touching me,” or “go stand over there.”
  • Use statements, not questions if you tell them to leave you alone. For example, say, “Leave me alone,” not “Would you please leave me alone?”
  • Make an all-purpose anti-harassment statement, such as: “Stop harassing women. I don’t like it. No one likes it. Show some respect.” Speak it in a neutral but assertive tone.
  • Use an A-B-C statement (and be very concrete about A and C): tell the harasser what the problem is; state the effect.; and what you want. Here is an example: “When you make kissing noises at me it makes me feel uncomfortable. I want you to say, ‘Hello, ma’am,’ from now on if you want to talk to me.”
  • Identify the perpetrator: “Man in the yellow shirt, stop touching me.” (This is especially useful if you and the harasser are together somewhere with other people around).