Street Harassment on Public Transport: India, Brazil, Japan, and even Mexico Top the U.S.

Man accosting woman who is trying to ignore himRead “Mexico City Introduces Women-Only Buses to Deter Groping.” I don’t know what it’s like in your country, but here in the U.S. it seems that taking real steps against street harassment is faintly gauche. There’s a subtle attitude that “hey, the occasional jerk is unfortunate, but nice women toughen up and put up with it.” There’s a subtle implication that a woman who speaks up is oversensitive or immature, and that classy, strong women just stride through the barrage of harassment and ignore it. There’s so much wrong with that line of thinking that it’s hard to know where to start.

I’d love to see optional separate public transportation here in the U.S. A comment I hear from women who commute on public transportation is that “the best you can hope for is to be ignored because the men won’t call each other on that kind of stuff.” In this reality, separate transportation is a superior alternative.

Someone on another blog referenced a street harassment movie about 90 minutes long called “War Zone,” by Maggie Hadleigh West. Here’s the intro on YouTube. (The article that originally referenced this movie is here and also in the blogroll.) Here’s the intro on MySpaceTV Videos.

I found it extremely uncomfortable to watch this movie even though it’s mostly just people talking to each other, and even though I’m a woman myself. We have such an enculturated resistance to the idea of women verbally confronting men over street harassment that even I as a woman have a hard time watching it being done (although it’s empowering–I can’t remember ever seeing it done in real life). So I can imagine how uncomfortable a man might feel while viewing this film. Male or female, I admire you if you watch it. It just is not easy to watch.

According to articles, the film has generated heat, debate, and attention wherever it is shown. This is the type of movie in which it doesn’t matter how exactly the footage captures reality–some people are going to dismiss it out of hand. That, too, is reality.

Given that reality, what can both sexes do to combat street harassment? It includes staring, leering, the elevator stare (a leisurely stare up and down a woman’s body), groping, deliberately brushing or bumping a woman, cursing, whistling, propositioning, rating a woman’s body (“Hey baby, you’re gorgeous”) as if she’s public property to judge, etc.

What can we do about this? What ideas do you have as readers? What experiences have you had with street harassment–whether you’ve done it yourself or had it done to you? Share the wealth of your experience here. Keep in mind the commenting guidelines.

[2012 update: I saw one of our commenters had started a street harassment website back in 2008, Stop Street Harassment. It seems good to post the link here. It is still up and active.]


“For Men” category, but no “For Women”?

Stylized drawing of two parents + two children.A word of clarification is in order. You may see that the category “for men” has a number of posts, while the category “for women” doesn’t even exist. Why?

Because: While men are rape victims, rape is overwhelmingly a female experience perpetrated by males. Therefore, nearly every post in this blog is for women by default.

Sadly, rape is heavily skewed toward male attackers and female victims. Perhaps someday that will change, and rape–no matter who the attacker or survivor–will become a rare crime. We can dream (and hope and work).

I make a conscious effort to provide information and resources that include and can be used by male victims in most posts. They need and deserve the same quality of support as any other rape survivor.

Define Stalking

Text on background: "Real Fear Real Crime"Definition of Stalking

Stalking: An intrusive (not necessarily overt) pattern of surveillance directed at a specific person that causes a reasonable person to be unnerved or afraid for her/his safety.

Some one in 12 women is stalked in her lifetime, and over 75 percent of women murdered by a husband or boyfriend were stalked by them first. Did you know that most stalking victims aren’t celebrities, and that most victims aren’t stalked by strangers, but by people they already know?

Considerably more women are stalked than men, but some men also experience stalking.

For more information about stalking laws, statistics, myths, and resources:

Define Street Harassment

Nametag: Hello, my name is NOT HEY BABYDefinition of Street Harassment

Street harassment: The experience of women from all walks of life of being heckled, whistled at, rated, propositioned, leered at, fondled and in other ways assaulted and humiliated by men as they go about their daily lives in public spaces.

Surprisingly, there are several terrific resources just for street harassment. There wasn’t even a name for this until recent years. It was an experience women had when they went out in public. (And still have routinely today.) Books listed below can be located and ordered through sites such as, Bookfinder, Ashworth Books, and Alibris.

Interestingly, while Wikipedia lists 10 types of sexual harassment, street harassment is not listed. Even under the strict “sexual harassment” item in the list, it says sexual harassment is most common in the workplace and in schools. No reference to the constant and pervasive stress women can experience whenever they walk out of a building into a public space. Its “See also” section even mentions cyber-bullying, historically a very recent development…but not street harassment, which has been around for all of recorded history. We now have resources, but we still don’t talk about it much.

[Update in January 2012: If you type “street harassment” into Wikipedia it directs you to the sexual harassment page. No change there. It no longer has a list of 10 different types of harassment; the whole page has been reworked and added to. It’s a lot longer now. While I’m happy for more information, there is still absolutely no mention of street harassment — the most common, everyday experience of it that women have.]

Having said that–here’s some of what’s now available.

  • Back Off: How to Confront and Stop Sexual Harassment and Harassers, by Martha J. Langelan.
  • Her Wits About Her, by Denise Caignon and Gail Groves. Out of print–you can search for used copies at the sites listed above.
  •, especially this article on street harassment. There are so many links to other resources and other information here that you’ll be here awhile.
  • The Street Harassment Project located in New York. Particularly check out their Links page.
  • Anti-street harassment organization in the U.K.
  • One of my all-time favorites on this topic, Hollaback New York City. Here women share their icky experiences and what they did to fight back. Even better, they snap cell phone photos of their harassers and post them with a narrative of what they did. The women often ask for permission to take the photo and many of these guys are flattered and think it’s a favorable reaction to their behavior. Hard to believe, but true. You can submit your own photo here (they welcome stories and submissions from anywhere in the country).
  • Read this article on activists turning the tables on street harassers.
  • Cool new interactive blog (it has stories, photos, video, you can submit your own) called Don’t Be Silent.
  • One woman’s blog entry about street harassment. Read the responses too. Her thinking on the issue is so clear–she articulately encapsulates the entire issue for women.
  • Article: “Just Looking: A View of Street Harassment.”

Define Sexual Assault

I wish some of this material could be posted directly here, but it is all under full copyright. Resources are not available to purchase the material or the rights to republish it. But here are direct links to the exact information.

Definition of Rape

Any type of penetration (using body parts, objects, etc.) of any body orifice (nostrils, anus, etc.) perpetrated by one person on another by the use of intimidation, force, violence, or victim’s lack of consent (i.e., a person who is drunk, drugged, or developmentally disabled, for example).

Differentiating between the terms rape and sexual assault

The word rape has been used historically to refer only to penile-vaginal rape. Today it is often replaced by the term sexual assault to apply to a wider range of types of assaults committed by both sexes, on both sexes. Groping and harassment are defined as types of sexual assault, but they’re not types of rape. So the difference between the terms is technical: Rape in its strictest sense refers to penile-vaginal or penile-anal rape, while sexual assault has a much broader meaning and includes all kinds of sexually-based attacks. All are devastating.

Be aware that in many cases, the two terms are used interchangeably. If you’re attentive to context this won’t be a problem.

Definitions and research

The American Medical Association has prepared a terrific report defining and describing sexual assault. Read the first paragraph of the report on page 4 in particular. About 20 percent of women–one in every five–have been sexually assaulted by age 21. This is based on estimates, because the reporting rate on rape is so much lower than the actual number of rapes that occur.

Also read the Medem article from the ACOG Educational Bulletin called “Definitions of Sexual Assault”–at least the first few paragraphs–to learn more about the definition and get statistics about different kinds of sexual assault. (ACOG stands for American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists–the first national medical group of its kind to recognize rape as a public health issue.)

The information founds at these links above will tell you that not all rape is committed by men, and that is true. The vast majority of rapes are committed by men, but a small minority of rapes are committed by women. I can’t help thinking how much money the U.S. (government, companies, communities, and individuals) could save if we could find a way to use funding to prevent men from raping women, instead of just helping victims recover after the fact.

As a country, we’re spending a truckload of money on all sorts of victim assistance programs–worthy programs that currently need to continue–but I can’t find any federal bills like this aimed at actually preventing men from raping women. No training programs, no national tours by respected male athletes or other public figures, no TV commercials, nothing. It all seems aimed at women. Research shows that that’s because women listen. They need to listen for their own safety. Men as a gender won’t go to a “Stop Rape Now” type of event because they don’t need to–they’re generally not in danger of being raped. And a rapist is certainly not going to attend. Other solutions have to be created and funded.

A couple of years ago I conducted a highly unscientific straw poll of my male friends, asking them what could be done to prevent male sexual assault of women (not merely treat the victims afterward). One said there wasn’t any way to prevent it. Another suggested that the only way to get to a rapist before he raped someone was to “train him from birth.” A third thought a moment and said, “A gun.” All took the issue seriously, but none were even willing to go as far as confronting other males on sexually entitled behavior, assaults with alcohol, or sexual bullying. Male-to-male confrontation is a vital part of the fight against rape.

Although this was unscientific, it was exactly the correct first step we need to take in the U.S. (Our country is very near the bottom of the list among First World countries for its high sexual assault rate, rape penalties, and conviction rate.) Ask men how to prevent rape, including (especially) asking rapists. Listen to their answers. Begin formulating plans.

Whatever our views, we can contribute very effectively to this issue for the future by

  • raising our sons never to commit or accept violence against women, and by
  • raising our daughters to expect never to be violated, and to reject permanently and at the first occurrence all men who do violence to them. That’s right–no second chances. Your daughter is worth it. Your mother, your sister, your girlfriend or wife, is worth so much that she should not tolerate violence. Period. This doesn’t cut the man off from having love in his life. It gives him the chance and the motivation to change his ways, find another person to love, and not do violence to her.
  • It has come to my attention that the above concept wasn’t explained or clear for marriage or a committed relationship. Within that type of relationship, you wouldn’t necessarily end the entire relationship with the first episode of violence. But you would leave immediately for your own safety. Then, as is commonly and wisely advised, you would communicate to the violent partner (be prudent–just leave a letter behind) that if they want the relationship to continue, they must go to individual therapy, join in couples counseling when the therapist says they’re ready, and not pressure you to return to the relationship. The goal here is a permanently zero-violence relationship–a completely reasonable requirement of any civilized partner who truly loves you. A therapist of course can’t guarantee zero violence, but can work extensively with the violent partner to develop new and better habits and make sure those habits are in place before putting you two together again. When the therapist indicates the time is right, you should begin couples counseling together at the same time your partner is still in therapy for the violence. The two of you will probably be advised not to live together until both types of therapy have progressed far enough.
  • Please note: A violent partner’s promises to stop being violent or go to therapy are not an acceptable substitute for actual therapy. Study after study has shown that the violence continues. Sadly, in many cases, the violence only ends with death. You must leave. This keeps you (and your children, if any) safe, and it puts the pressure of the violent relationship on the violent partner, where it belongs.
  • A note for anyone who has experienced partner violence: Nothing you do excuses your partner’s violence, and you don’t deserve it. If your partner blames your behavior for his/her violence, that’s a way of making you take the responsibility and pay the price for someone else’s actions. It’s the equivalent of a three-year-old hitting his mother, and when his mother says, “No, you mustn’t hit Mommy,” the three-year-old replies, “Bad Mommy!” Blaming the victim is classic behavior for a violent partner.
  • The zero-tolerance policy never changes–no one gets a free pass to be violent to you–but your handling of the situation will be different depending on the relationship.

If we trained our children with the “zero tolerance for violence” policy, it would make a tremendous difference in our national crime statistics for the next generation.

Here are outstanding books I’ve personally read on the subjects of self-defense. I can also recommend from personal experience the Impact/BAMM self-defense courses.

For emergencies, crises, referrals, or emotional support (all confidential):

  • Emergency number: If you are assaulted or in imminent danger, call 911 directly.
  • (For the record: If a man is standing outside your locked door–especially if he’s armed with a gun or knife–trying to break it down and yelling that he’s going to kill you, that’s imminent danger. Call 911.)
  • (For the record 2: If a man is standing outside your locked door, unarmed, trying to break it down and yelling anything threatening whatsoever at you, that’s imminent danger too. Call 911.
  • National rape hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). For TDD call 1-800-787-3224.
  • RAINN national rape hotline (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network): 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
  • SARA hotline (Sexual Assault Resource Agency): 1-434-977-7273.
  • Disturbing statistics on their home page, unfortunately accurate.
  • Victim hotline (National Center for Victims of Crime–open for calls from 8:30 am-8:30 pm Monday through Friday): 1-800-FYI-CALL (394-2255)

Study on College Campus Rape, Harassment, and Stalking

College students sitting together on a lawn

[Originally posted on Tuesday, July 11, 2006 at 4:46 PM PDT]

Check out this source document from the U.S. Department of Justice for an excellent study on rape on college campuses. It was put out jointly through the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Particularly, check out:

  • the intro on page 5 in the pdf, (page iii in the document itself);
  • the subsection “Do Women Report Victimization to the Police?” on page 30 (page 23 in the document);
  • the tables on “Reasons for Not Reporting Incident to the Police” on pages 31-33 (pages 24-26 in the document);
  • and the final page of copy, page 42 (page 35 in the document).

There is impact to the sentence on that final page: “Minor forms of sexual victimization—sexist statements, harassing catcalls, sexually tainted whistles—appear to be commonplace. How can a more civil environment be achieved without compromising free speech?”

Keep checking in as I develop more sources and gather more information, and if you know of other information and resources, feel free to send it off to me. Thanks.



Image: photostock /