What Is Street Harassment?

Stop Street Harassment (SSH) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to documenting and addressing and ending gender-based street harassment worldwide. Read more.

Overview: Street harassment is any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender or sexual orientation. In countries like India and Bangladesh, it’s termed “eve teasing,” and in countries like Egypt, it’s called “public sexual harassment.”

Street harassment is a human rights issue because it limits women’s ability to be in public as often or as comfortably as most men. Read the United Nations’ stance on the issue.

The mobility of  all members of the LGBQT community is often restricted as well because of harassment and hateful violence motivated by the person’s actual or perceived gender expression or sexual orientation. For example, a 2013 study of 93,000 LGBQT individuals in the European Union found that half avoided public spaces sometimes because of street harassment and most reported high levels of fear in locations like restaurants, public transportation, streets, parking lots, and parks.

* Christian Science Monitor, “Street harassment of women: It’s a bigger problem than you think
* The Guardian, “Feeling harassed? Do something about it
* Feministe, “Harassing Men on the Street

Types: It ranges from leers, whistles, honks, kissing noises, gender-policing, and non-sexually explicit evaluative comments, to more insulting and threatening behavior like vulgar gestures, sexually charged comments, flashing, and stalking, to illegal actions like public masturbation, sexual touching, assault, and murder.

Gender-based street harassment can intersect with racism, homophobia and transphobia, classism, and/or ableism (as explored in Chapter 3 of the Stop Street Harassment book) to create multi-layered harassment.

Age: Street harassment often begins around puberty. In a 2008 study of 811 women conducted by Stop Street Harassment, almost 1 in 4 women had experienced street harassment by age 12 (7th grade) and nearly 90% by age 19. While street harassment is most frequent for teenagers and women in their 20s, the chance of it happening never goes away and women in their 80s have shared stories.

Definitions of street harassment.
Studies and statistics about street harassment.
Resources to learn more.
Strategies for dealing with harassment
Ideas for ending street harassment

Note: While women also may harass men in public, gender inequality means that the power dynamics at play, frequency of the harassment, the underlying threat of rape, and the impact on the harassed person’s life is rarely comparable. For these reasons, the work of Stop Street Harassment focuses mostly on men harassing women (cis and transwomen) or people perceived to be female, with secondary focus on the harassment of LGBQT individuals as a whole.

Also, while public harassment motivated by racism, homophobia, transphobia, or classism—types of deplorable harassment which men can be the target of and sometimes women perpetrate—is recognized as socially unacceptable behavior, men’s harassment of women motivated by gender and sexism is not. Instead it is portrayed as complimentary, a joke, or “only” a trivial annoyance. Plus people tend to blame women for its occurrence based on what they are wearing or what time of day they are in public. Additionally, there are already many great groups working to address the other forms of harassment, but there are few addressing gender-based harassment. These are additional reasons why Stop Street Harassment focuses on this type of harassment – but is an ally to all groups and people working to end every type of harassment.

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