Many people think that all you can do to address street harassment is to cope, walk fast, avoid eye contact, pretend to be on the phone, and think that it isn’t being said to you.
Sometimes you feel that these are all completely legitimate ways of dealing with harassment, especially if you don’t feel safe responding. However, there are ways for responding to public sexual assault and harassment and changing the culture that allows it to continue.
Try not to get aggressive or swear at harassers. Aggressive responses can lead to the harasser becoming aggressive in turn or not listening to the anti-harassment message you’re trying to get across. Talking back to harassers can be empowering and can provide a firm and fair disincentive to harassers to continue their behavior, but harasses shouldn’t feel pressured to respond every time. That kind of undertaking could be exhausting and potentially unsafe. Always make sure to use your instincts on whether or not a response might lead to a harasser escalating the situation.
Be an active bystander
One of the most poisonous effects of public sexual harassment is what it can do to the community in which it takes place.
People who often experience public sexual harassment, as well as those who have experienced public sexual assault, can become reserved and suspicious when they’re out in public.
They may avoid talking to their neighbors or miss opportunities to make genuine connections in their fear that the interaction might turn into harassment or assault. Their harassers’ attempts to intimidate and silence them can succeed.
Intervention can interrupt a potentially traumatic experience for the victim and help feel like he or she has a support system within the community.
Share your experiences
With a problem under-researched and so normalized, it’s hard to overstate the power a story has to open peoples’ eyes. Many people, even those who experience harassment themselves, can fail to understand the emotional impact it can have. Nothing communicates the emotional reality of public sexual harassment and assault like a story.
If you choose to share, other victims of harassment may read about your experience and feel theirs legitimized, and hopefully share in turn. It’s awesome how one story can light fires in so many other peoples’ hearts and minds.
Report the harassment
In some situations, it’s possible to report a harasser or the harassing behavior. Reporting a harasser could discourage that person from harassing anyone in the future, especially if they harass you on the job and you’re able to file a report with their employer.
It can also have the valuable effect of helping authorities gather information on the amount of harassment that is taking place in a community.
Some harassing actions, like groping, indecent exposure, stalking, and assault, are illegal in most jurisdictions. That means you can, and should, report them to law enforcement.
Harassment is hugely underreported, which makes it hard for activists and policymakers to know how pervasive the problem is.