16 Memorable Ways of Dealing With Street Harassment

For the 8th day of the 16 Days of Activism, we are proud to share a special blog list of 16 memorable ways of dealing with street harassment which has been kindly compiled by Holly Kearl, Founder of Stop Street Harassment and one of our 16 Female Role Models of 2010.

Almost 100% of women and girls experience street harassment in their lifetimes ranging from the uncomfortable to the downright dangerous. Holly receives many stories of women fighting back against street harassment by themselves or with the help of friends, family and bystanders which is shared on the Stop Street Harassment website and Facebook page to help raise awareness of this particular type of violence against women as well as provide inspiration and ideas for everyone on making public places and spaces safe ones for women.

This list provides a starting point for all to learn about and discuss the impact of street harassment. We hope it’ll inspire you to take action.

It’s time to stop violence against women. Together.

– Regina Yau, Founder and President, The Pixel Project


Most women experience street harassment at some point in their life, especially when they’re young. When it happens, it can be upsetting, stunning, and humiliating and the instinctual response many women have is to simply ignore it. Sometimes ignoring harassers is necessary because it is the safest option, or there is no time to respond any other way, but ignoring harassers usually feels disempowering to the person being harassed and it does not challenge the behavior of the harasser.

While there is no one right way to respond to harassers, an assertive response often makes the harasser think twice about harassing someone else in the future and can make the person who was harassed feel a bit better!

Here are 16 ways women dealt with street harassers in the past year. From their stories, I hope you can find inspiration for how to deal with harassers you encounter:


Memorable Fight-Back 1: 22-year old college student Shyane DeJesus attacked, berated, and snapped a cell phone picture of a man who groped her on a subway platform in New York City. A few days later she picked him out of a line-up of suspects. She advises women, “Don’t let them scare you. They’re cowards.”  [Photo of DeJesus from NYPost:]

Memorable Fight-Back 2: Salwa, a cartoon character created by women’s rights activists in Beirut, Lebanon, stops street harasser with her red purse. Learn more on The Adventures of Salwa website.

Memorable Fight-Back 3: Jo in Kent, England, reported a harasser after he decided it was a good idea to make crude comments about her breasts while wearing his work vest with the company’s name on it. Once Jo got home, she contacted the company, and they were quick to respond and they assured her they would talk to the full staff about appropriate ways to talk and interact with members of the public. When she shared her story, Jo wrote, “Whatever happens, I’ll keep on fighting.

Memorable Fight-Back 4: On the ACLU’s blog Robyn recounted how a man whacked her butt when she was walking to work one morning. She wrote, “I hesitated a moment. Did that really just happen?…I ran after the dude.”

When she caught up to him she demanded, “You think that shit is funny? You like hitting women, huh? You think that’s the correct way to act? Whatsamatterwityou?” and he said, “Ma’am I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She retorted with, “”You know goddamn well what I’m talking about. YOU DON’T HIT WOMEN, ASSHOLE.” Robyn ended up calling the police and four officers came to help her though he was gone by the time they arrived. At the end of her story, she notes, “I know what happened to me could have been a lot, lot worse. But someone doesn’t have to be raped to be humiliated, violated and hurt. Sometimes, all it takes is a smack on the ass.”

Memorable Fight-Back 5: “You got great legs baby!” a 43-year-old man told Brittney, a 15-year-old girl, as she waited for the subway on her way to school. In response, she said, “Excuse me, you probably have a daughter older than me.”

Unconcerned by that thought he said, “Sorry you just look so sexy in that schoolgirl outfit I couldn’t help it and you do have great legs.” Undeterred, Brittney said, “Sexual harassment is a crime, leave me alone or I will report you,” and the harasser hurried away. At the end of her story she wrote, “I count that as a win for me because I hear things like that all the time and I finally stood up for myself and said something.”

Memorable Fight-Back 6: K. Wilkins in Ontario, Canada, was locking her bike up outside a bank and witnessed three men harass two women walking near them.  She said the women looked so uncomfortable and so she took a deep breath and yelled across the street, “You, stop harassing these women.”  The harassers booed her, but the young women thanked her. She said, “I witness, hear about, and am subjected to this bullshit daily. I am speaking out!!

Memorable Fight-Back 7: Allison in Massachusetts confronted a street harasser for the first time. A man said, “Smile beautiful,” as she waited for a bus. After freezing initially, she followed him and said, “Just so you know, it doesn’t make women feel good when you tell them to smile. Sometimes people have shitty days and they don’t feel like smiling. It’s offensive to just tell them to smile.”  He apologized.

Memorable Fight-Back 8: Tired of dealing with street harassers, anonymous in North Carolina decided to retort back when a man sitting on a bench outside the library told her she was “So Beautiful.” She turned and looked into his eyes and told him, “You’re not.” She wrote, “Commenting on a strange woman’s physical appearance is rude and insensitive – it is ugly. I don’t care if people look at me, but no one has the right to speak to me, touch me or approach me.”

Memorable Fight-Back 9: RDH in Tennessee was walking home after dark and a car started creeping behind her. The driver lowered the car window and asked if he could “hollar” at her. RDH was scared, but she still stood up to him. She asked him how he would like it if his mother or sister was walking and some random stranger came creeping up behind them. She ended up getting an apology.

Memorable Fight-Back 10: This past spring a writer at Clutch Magazine asked women how they handle their street harassers. Commenter Inka said, “I usually tell them I’m a man, and that shuts them up instantly. I don’t know if they believe me, but it always gets them to shut up.”

Memorable Fight-Back 11: Jane was tired of construction workers congregating on her street leering at women walking by. She emailed the construction company and after that the men no longer stood around on the street leering at women.

Memorable Fight-Back 12: Earlier this year, Melissa wrote an article for ToughxCookies about dealing with street harassment as a lesbian: “One time, my then-girlfriend and I decided — during a routine walk in the park, which is where we had a lot of negative experiences — to take pictures of every person who stared or hollered at us.  If they asked why we were photographing them, we’d straight-up tell them: ‘We’re taking pictures of everyone who feels the need to harass us today, to make us feel like we can’t walk down the street holding hands like any other couple.’”

Memorable Fight-Back 13: Anonymous in Washington, D.C., said, “Stop harassing women” to a man who was harassing every woman walking by him as he stood outside Union Station. Her directive silenced him.

Memorable Fight-Back 14: After years of street harassment experiences, when a man groped Kate on a subway platform in New York City, she wrote, “Without thinking I turned around and hit him as hard as I possibly could. I didn’t even stop walking, nor did I say anything. I did turn around to look at him as I hit him, and his face was one of shock but not of surprise. He knew why I had hit him; he just couldn’t believe he hadn’t gotten away with it.”

Memorable Fight-Back 15: Anne was at a McDonald’s in Vermont with a friend when she noticed a young man two tables over was leering at them. Then she noticed he was masturbating. She said, “Stop that right now! That is not okay!” He denied doing anything so she notified the manager on duty, and called the police.

Memorable Fight-Back 16: Last fall, Nicola Briggs made headlines by calling out a subway pervert who had his penis out against her on the New York City subway (a video of it went viral on YouTube). During the subway incident, Nicola didn’t think about being polite or worry about making a scene. She called the guy out loudly, got bystanders to help make sure he didn’t get away, and reported him to police. He was arrested and later convicted.

11 thoughts on “16 Memorable Ways of Dealing With Street Harassment

  1. #8 actually makes me feel a little uneasy with that final sentence – ‘I don’t care if people look at me, but no one has the right to speak to me, touch me or approach me.’ I regularly smile and say hello to people I pass while out walking, and it worries me that someone sees that as harassment! 🙁

  2. Christine, it depends on how it was said, how the guy looked at her when it was said—-AND what was said to her after she chose or chose not to respond. It’s not the simple act of saying hello, it’s the intention behind it, and whether or not my right to not say anything in return (because sometimes even the simple act of saying ‘hello’ back can result in a lewd comment in return) is respected.

  3. gals can always differentiate btw the subtle n the cheap HELLO so dontr worry unless ur rt. nothing wrons gonna happen

  4. The thing is that even a simple ‘hello’ can escalate into harassment and we only have a split second to decide whether this complete stranger is a threat or not. Given, too, how often most women are harassed, you can hardly blame us for being hostile even when the intentions are good.

    I’m glad you feel able to be friendly to strangers on the street, Christine. I’ll continue to be wary.

  5. More than a decade ago: At that time I used a cane as mobility device. On a walk to local market (particularly empty street no other cars or people around) lone car loaded with teenagers in hot car playing loud music, gunned their engine and ‘leaped’ into the pedestrian walk area just as I had reached the middle of the crosswalk. The teenagers laughed their heads off. I pivoted round to walk the length of their car to get number of their license plate but realized the traffic light was going to change before I could get the information; so I keyed their car instead. Disabled and elderly people are targets for street harassers and bullies; ask any police department they’ll give you the statistics. Bus stops are especially dangerous places for the disabled.

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  8. What would you recommend for non-sexual street and done-by neighbours-verbal-harassment when they cant even realize what they are doing and disrespect the victim, refusing to be aware of the knowledge of their damage?

  9. Natalie, I usually call them out on it…I go out to lunch at the same locations…wanting to eat/work in peace…Since I am a regular presence, men — particularly old men — approach me with jokes, invitations to church volunteer groups, stupid comments followed by their inane laughter…They refused to relent..and keep coming by my table as if I were sport.

    Once I told a man to stop, he apologized, gave me his name and then concluded that since we were “friends,” he would start up again, this time more aggressive than before.

    Wild eyed old men who eyed me like a piece of meat would try to catch my eye only to be greeted with indifference while looking for some entre to pester.

    Finally I moved away from an old man sitting with some young people. I moved for the simple reason that they were eating with their mouths open and I found the snapping and spitting associated with their bad hygiene habits unsettling and rather gross. I didn’t say anything, but simply move.

    The old man, who had been eying me, bright eyed and bush tailed, all smiles, apologized for disturbing me since he witnessed me relocate myself. I assured him he had not bothered, that I just preferred to work somewhere else.

    Even that innocuous exchange led to more pestering. Thereafter every time he saw me there he would try to initiate conversation even though I was clearly working. I once asked rather sternly, “what can I help you with?” and he kind of scurried off with his tail between his legs only to return later giving me his name and inviting me to church volunteer groups with him. (I felt as though his friends advised him that the best way to meet women — young women, whatever — was to hang out in public places and/or go to volunteer groups.

    He gave me his email and I wrote him a note of how annoyed I was with the pestering undertaken by him and his elderly friends who were refusing to take no for an answer and were persisting in pestering me despite my lack of interest and busyness. I informed him that I was not interested and that he was to tell his friends that I was not interests as not only did I have a boyfriend but I was half their age and wouldn’t even consider them, that they needed to associate with more age appropriate peers.

    Whatever the case, that ended the harassment. Now they leave me alone…I even saw a few ask out elderly ladies and lay off the young ones…

    I don’t know what the answer is…but for me it is to NEVER give them an opening..and then to immediately cut them off if they try. (You know the difference between innocent communication and men with untoward agendas). If they persist, change your schedule, and avoid, avoid, avoid.

    Last effort — call them out on it…If they apologize, do not let down your guard as I did — with one old man telling me he was glad we were now friends and that he’d do anything for me..as my kindness was construed as an invitation for more of the same — but say — thank you for your apology…and then reaffirm your position — that you are glad they took your feelings into consideration and appreciate your understanding that you be left alone.

    Unfortunately, boundary setting with these men, even if friendly and civil, still can lead to aggressive retaliation. (Old men have done it to me — even formed posses to terrorize me and make me pay since I declined to date them. This was after I once innocently chatted with one in line, shook his hand,and gave my name when asked — leading him to google me, and harass me relentlessly for a date….)

    Best to avoid…what’s the worst they can say — she’s ignoring us? — The less reaction you give them, the less they have to go on..and they will get bored…Also, try to dress up and look confident…For whatever reason, I have noticed that these creeps tend to focus on women who are vulnerable — that is, they are too accommodating, too nice, too empathic, or look like easy marks — that is, they will not protest the harassment since they have low self esteem — demonstrated by dressing poorly, having a poor hair cut, etc….If you look strong, have your act together, that you mean business, and are focused, these men will tend to leave you alone…Often they are looking for sport, amusement, to live out some fantasy with women….

  10. Well, I think it’s really hard to reply. I know that it doesn’t matter if he says something sexually offensive or if he only says hello beautiful. Just yesterday I had a late dance class and on the way to the tram stop 2 men walked past and one of them said: “You’re pretty. Thank you.” I could see the joy they had from seeing me freeze. I believe these are terribly damaged people, but how to make them stop? Theses are good ways when there are other people around, but when the streets are almost empty a woman is really scared not to be raped. This is kind of an issue for me. Anyway thank you for having this website to help women fight back!