16 Creative and Safe Ways to Intervene to Stop Street Harassment

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Street harassment is becoming increasingly prevalent all across the globe. The anti-Street Harassment nonprofit, Stop Street Harassment, defines street harassment as:

Unwelcome words and actions by unknown persons in public which are motivated by gender and invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary, or insulting way.

Two things are necessary for street harassment to happen:

1) A person or group who chooses to harass someone and

2) A community of bystanders willing to let it happen.

As a society, if we continue to accept street harassment as a part of our daily lives, it will never stop.

Many people would like to prevent and stop street harassment in their communities, but are worried about how to go about it. Intervening does not mean that a person has to get involved in a verbal or physical fight with the harasser. Keeping yourself safe is important and there are many safe and creative ways to intervene – here are just 16 of them:

Written by Rubina Singh; Edited by Crystal Smith and Regina Yau


Intervention Idea #1. Call out the harasser

One of the most effective ways to respond to street harassment is to simply call the harasser out. Let him know that his behavior is unacceptable. Most harassers will stop once their behaviour is acknowledged and reprimanded. You should:

Name the behavior: “You just called that woman a b**ch.”

State a principle: “That’s not okay.”

Make a command: “Stop harassing people.”

Check out this cartoon example from our partner, Bell Bajao/Breakthrough:

Intervention Idea # 2. Speak to the target

Speaking to the target is one of the safest ways to get involved. Simply asking the target, ‘Are you OK?’ or ‘Do you need any help?’ helps the target feel empowered and at the same time, lets the harasser know that the target is not alone.

Intervention Idea # 3. Distract the harasser

One of the best ways to intervene when you witness a street harassment incident is to distract the harasser. This can be done simply by coming in between the target and the harasser or creating some sort of commotion to allow the target to leave the scene. One excellent illustration of this method was shared on the Hollaback! Chandigarh site by Vikram. He witnessed a girl on a two wheeler being followed by a car and he managed to get his car in between the two in order to help the girls reach their destination safely.

Intervention Idea #4. Fake friendship

Another great way to intervene is to pretend you’re a friend of the target. Just going up to the target and saying hello would disengage the harasser like it happened with Lauren Bravo (http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/2012/02/fakefriend/).

Intervention Idea #5. Bring it home

Try saying something that would make the harasser understand the consequences of his actions like ‘I hope no one speaks to you like that’ or ‘What if someone treated your girlfriend that way?’

Intervention Idea #6. Click a pic

Depending on where you live, taking pictures of harassers can be a very effective way to stop harassment. Shaming the harasser during or after the act can be a strong deterrent. But do make sure it is legal in your area!

Intervention Idea #7. Make your presence known

Another creative way to intervene is to simply make your presence felt. This will make the target feel safer and also discourage the harasser, particularly in isolated areas or at night. Simply coughing or talking on the phone, etc. can go a long way.

Intervention Idea #8. Call the cops

One of the safest and most effective ways to respond to harassment is to call the police. You do not always need to intervene directly and if you feel direct involvement would be unsafe, the police can do what is necessary.

Intervention Idea #9. Ask for directions or the time

A great way to direct attention away from the target is to ask a random question. You can ask the question either to the harasser or to the target. Either way, the presence of a third party can make a big difference in stopping street harassment.

Intervention Idea #10. Visible disapproval

Looking disapprovingly at the harasser or murmuring something loud enough so the harasser can hear will help the harasser realise that his behavior is not acceptable by the public. It will also help the target feel less alone.

Intervention Idea #11. Get a group together or talk to fellow bystanders about intervening

Where you feel intervening alone would be unsafe or futile, start talking to the people around you. Try and get a group together to intervene. Not only will this deter the harasser, it will also encourage other people to become effective allies in the fight against street harassment.

Intervention Idea # 12. ‘Accidentally’ spill your drink

One of the most creative ways for bystanders to intervene is to ‘accidentally’ spill a drink/coffee/etc. on the harasser. It isn’t something that the harasser would feel compelled to react against, but it definitely gets the message of disapproval across.

Intervention Idea #13. Engage your peer group

If your friends are harassing, call them out. Take time to explain to them why their behavior is inappropriate. Step away from the group if they are engaging in harassment to show your disapproval.

Intervention Idea #14. Be a role model

A great way to prevent and stop street harassment is to be a good role model to people around you, especially young men. People learn from everyone around them and if you set a good example, many will follow.

Intervention Idea #15. Share your story

Many bystanders feel that it is not their job to get involved in street harassment or ‘it’s none of their business’. If you’ve intervened, make sure you share your story with other to encourage them to become allies as well.

Intervention Idea #16. Long term intervention

If you feel that you would like to do more to prevent street harassment, invest in long term interventions. You can conduct a safety audit in your area or volunteer with local organisations working to end street harassment. You can even start something as simple as a voluntary escort facility to escort women going home alone at night, like BearWalk at the University of California, Berkeley.

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