How To Deal With Street Harassment Without Putting Yourself In Danger
Because it can be risky business.
It is unfortunate, to say the least, that street harassment is still a thing in this day and age.
The simple act of walking down the street can lead to several encounters of harassment whether it’s getting beeped at by ongoing cars, yelled at from across the road, being followed or being touched against your will on a night out with the girls.
I recall the first time I was harassed. I was around six years old and out shopping with my mum when a man in his late 40 walked back and forth down the aisle multiple times, caressing my back and subtly stroking my hair each time he passed by. Being so young, I was afraid, but I remained silent. I clung onto my mother’s back as she shopped for her groceries, utterly oblivious to what was happening. 16 years later and I’ve lost count as to how many times I’ve experienced street harassment.
Just like a lot of girls out there, I’ve been catcalled, beeped at, followed. It was only a few weeks ago on a train as I watched an older man who was sitting across me at the end of the carriage place his index and middle finger on opposite sides of his mouth, stabbing his tongue in between. I kept my head down and continued to scroll down my newsfeed as if I hadn’t noticed him. What can you do in those situations? Was I supposed to get up and blast him for his indecency? Did I do right by ignoring him or did that just open another opportunity for him to replicate the same sexual gestures towards another girl on the train? Perhaps toward someone much younger than me.
Street harassment includes unwanted whistling, persistent leering, requests for your name, number or destination after you’ve said no, sexual names, comments, gestures and demands, unwelcomed touching, following, groping, sexual assault, and rape. Unfortunately, all of this and more is frequently happening on our streets, and by not speaking up we are only allowing these harassers to think their actions are okay. So, how exactly should we react?
Call out the cat-callers
If you’re walking down the street in an unsafe or isolated environment, it’s probably to best to just ignore. However, if you’re in a position where you’re able to call them out on their actions without feeling threatened, then feel free to shame them. With a firm voice, you can tell them to stop, or even slide in a little reminder of the women in their lives. If you want to confuse them, you can also do something utterly unexpected act really weird or cat-call them back. This could throw them off and make them regret ever saying a thing. Cat callers are usually used to more aggressive reactions or no reaction at all, so it’s always interesting to watch them squirm in confusion when you take a more calm approach.
Possible outcomes: The perpetrator will be embarrassed, might make more comments to save themselves from the public shaming or make a smart-arse comment making them look even more stupid. If taking the weird approach, the perpetrator may get confused, potentially scared, will tell you to go away or will, in turn, walk away themselves.
Possible risks: Perpetrator may get angry, will probably throw insults.
Staring back doesn’t always work
Catching someone staring at you can get super uncomfortable, especially when you make eye contact and THEY STILL STARE!? I’ve often found myself engage in a staring competition on the train, except I always end up throwing them a nasty look then proceed to look away. You’d think my menacing looks would be a clear enough message of disinterest but apparently, some people are incapable of reading body language. In saying this, don’t be afraid to question someone when they’re staring at you. A simple, “can I help you?” might do the trick. Either way, speaking to them will usually throw them off. If you’re alone on public transport, try to move to a busier carriage or get off the bus.
Possible outcomes: They’ll get awkward and look away, or they’ll act confused as if they weren’t just staring deep into your soul for the last 10 minutes.
Possible risks: Might cause another angry perpetrator and escalate the situation.
The fly that won’t buzz off
You’re sitting down minding your own business, and you get approached by someone who won’t take no for an answer. Do not feel in any way compelled to say ‘yes’ if you’re not interested. If they still refuse to leave you alone after a series of rejections, let them know they’re making you feel uncomfortable. This could put them in an awkward situation where they apologize for making you feel that way and leave you alone. However, if they’re still persistent at this stage, keep clear from them or even threaten report to them for harassing you.
Possible outcomes: The fly will actually buzz off.
Possible risks: You might get hit with an insult, e.g. “You’re not that great anyway.”
Being followed? Call for help
Being followed is a more scary and dangerous form of street harassment. If you’re being followed, avoid going to isolated areas and remain as public as possible. Inform a friend of your situation and whereabouts, if you’re alone then proceed to call the police. I tend to send my live location to whoever I’m messaging at the time which can be done through various social apps including text message, Facebook messenger, and WhatsApp. iPhones also have an emergency SOS feature where you can automatically call the police. Be extremely cautious, as your follower may be carrying a weapon and do not be afraid to ask others for help. Your life is way too precious to be alone in such a threatening position.
Possible outcomes: Follower will realize its too risky for them to approach you and will leave you alone. If you call for authorities, they will be caught and potentially charged.
Possible risks: Not taking immediate action could result in being in a life-threatening situation.
Violence isn’t the best response to the groper
You may think that sexual groping is mainly saved for the dance floor. Unfortunately, it happens on our streets too. First and foremost if this happens, you need to get away. If someone is confident enough to touch you like that, chances are they’re not afraid to escalate the situation. Though you will be fuming, if you respond aggressively and hit them, then they are likely to fight back. So unless you’re an undercover Ronda Rousey eagerly waiting for the moment where you can finally unleash your inner fighter, avoid violence and firmly to them to stop. Yell out loud and clear to make a scene and immediately remove yourself from their presence. Do not be afraid to report their behavior to the authorities.
Possible outcomes: Groper might not be as phased by your reaction, however, will stop trying to touch you.
Possible risks: Giving them an aggressive reaction can resort to a violent response.
Featured image via unsplash.com.
If you liked this story, read more like it on A Girl In Progress:
How To Have More Assertive Conversations As An Introvert
The 4 Types Of F*ckboys To Drop From Your Life, Immediately
5 Signs Your Friendship Is Toxic — And What To Do About It