Street harassment

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Street harassment is a form of sexual harassment that consists of unwanted comments, wolf-whistles, "catcalling," and other actions by strangers in public areas. According to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, "violence and harassment against women and girls in public spaces remains a largely neglected issue, with few laws or policies in place to address it."[1] It is distinguishable from workplace harassment.


According to a prominent activist group[who?], 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 or gender expression."[2] In much of South Asia, the term is called "eve teasing."


A number of studies from around the world have attempted to assess the prevalence of street harassment.

A 2014 study of 2,000 Americans was commissioned by an activist group and conducted by GfK. 65% of women and 25% of men reported having been the victims of street harassment in their lives. 41% of women and 16% of men said they had been physically harassed in some way, such as by being followed, flashed, or groped.[3]

The Canadian government sponsored a large data research project in 1993 called the Violence Against Women Survey. In the data sample of over 12,000 women, 85% said they were victims of harassment by a stranger.[4]

In a 2002 survey of Beijing residents, 58% cited public buses as a common location for sexual harassment.[5]

Additional studies on the prevalence of public harassment have been conducted in the United Kingdom, Poland, Egypt, India, Israel, South Korea, Yemen, and others.[6]

LGBT community[edit]

Members of the LGBT community may be particularly susceptible. 66% of LGBT respondents in a 2012 European Union survey said that they avoid holding hands in public for fear of harassment and assault. 50% said they avoid certain places or locations, and the places they listed as most unsafe to be open about their sexual orientations were "public transport" and "street, square, car parking lot, or other public space."[7] The 2014 GfK survey of Americans also reported higher incidence of harassment for LGBT people.[3]

Health effects[edit]

Street harassment, like other forms of sexual harassment, can induce a variety negative mental health effects on victims.

A 2000 article, based on Canada's Violence Against Women Survey, showed that past exposure to harassment from strangers is an important factor in women's perceptions of their safety in public. Harassment from a stranger, as opposed to an acquaintance, is more likely to induce fear of sexual victimization.[4]

Public attitudes[edit]

YouGov conducted a poll of about 1,000 Americans in August 2014. In their findings, 72% said it was never appropriate to make a "catcall," while 20% said it was sometimes or always acceptable. 55% labelled catcalling "harassment," while 20% called it "complimentary." Americans in the 18–29 age range were the most likely to categorize catcalling as complimentary.[8]


Public activism against street harassment has grown since the late 2000s. A group called Stop Street Harassment began as a blog in 2008 and became incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2012.[9] Another group called Hollaback! was founded in 2010.

Activists have made use of viral videos to publicize the frequency of unsolicited comments that women receive in public areas.[10][11]

One American street artist used Kickstarter to raise money for a campaign called "Stop Telling Women to Smile." The artist posts portraits of herself and other young women accompanied with messages against street harassment.[12]

A Minneapolis woman created a set of printable "Cards Against Harassment" (in homage to the game Cards Against Humanity) that she distributes to street harassers. The cards are meant to explain to street harassers why their comments are unwanted.[13]

See also[edit]

  • War Zone – a documentary on the topic


  1. ^ Bachelet, Michelle (21 February 2013). "Making cities safe for women and girls". The Guardian. Inter Press Service. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  2. ^ "What is street harassment?". Stop Street Harassment. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "Unsafed and Harassed in Public Spaces" (pdf). Stop Street Harassment. Spring 2014. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Macmillan, Ross; Nieorbisz, Annette; Welsh, Sandy (1 August 2000). "Experiencing the Streets: Harassment and Perceptions of Safety among Women". Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 37 (3): 306–322. doi:10.1177/0022427800037003003. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  5. ^ "Harassment rampant on public transportation". Shanghai Star. 11 April 2002. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  6. ^ "Statistics - Academic and Community Studies". Stop Street Harassment. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  7. ^ "EU LGBT survey – European Union lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender survey – Main results" (pdf). Fundamental Rights Agency. October 2014. pp. 87–89. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  8. ^ Moore, Peter. "Catcalling: Never OK and not a compliment". YouGov. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  9. ^ "About". Stop Street Harassment. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  10. ^ Leeds, Sarene (3 October 2014). "Jessica Williams Continues Her War Against Catcalls on 'The Daily Show'". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  11. ^ Hajela, Deepti (30 October 2014). "Viral Video Documents New York Street Harassment". ABC News. Associated Press. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  12. ^ Lee, Felicia R. (9 April 2014). "An Artist Demands Civility on the Street With Grit and Buckets of Paste". New York Times. Retrieved 4 November 2014. 
  13. ^ Silva, Estey (24 July 2014). "Cards Against Harassment address street harassers directly". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 4 November 2014.