Defining Street Harassment

Last week, we received a criticism in response to our post Male Allies Part II stating that harassment has not been defined properly and that harassment allegations are inappropriately thrown out “tarnishing many a man’s record.” The goal of Holla Back DC! is to raise awareness about all forms of gender based public sexual harassment in the DC area. This type of harassment can occur in any public space (on the street, in a bar or club, on the Metro, on the bus). Sexual harassment is not a vague or abstract idea.  Individuals have been expected to put up with gender-based public sexual harassment for decades and carry the burden in silence.  While not every individual defines street harassment in the exact same way, researchers have compiled a list of the behaviors that folks consider to be public based sexual harassment (See below, Langelan 25).  These behaviors include but are not limited to:

  • Wolf whistles or “cat calls”
  • Leering
  • Sexual innuendo
  • Comments about an individual’s body
  • Graphic descriptions of pornography
  • Pressure for dates
  • Hooting, sucking, lip-smacking, and animal noises
  • Sexually explicit gestures
  • Unwelcome touching and hugging
  • Sexist and insulting graffiti
  • Demanding “Hey, baby, give me a smile.”
  • Sexist jokes
  • “Accidentally” brushing sexual parts of the body
  • Pressing or rubbing against an individual
  • Leaning over or otherwise invading a victim’s space
  • Sexual sneak attacks (such as grabbing breasts or buttocks on the run)
  • Indecent exposure
  • Soliciting sexual services
  • Demanding sexual services
  • Stalking
  • Sexual assault

There is no excuse for any of this behavior.  We all have a right to feel safe in public spaces and to live in a community free from gender based public sexual harassment. Think there is something missing from the list? Let us know by emailing HBDC! at or dropping a comment after this post.

For further reading on defining sexual harassment check out these excellent resources: Langelan, Martha. Back Off: How to Confront and Stop Sexual Harassment and Harassers (New York: Fireside, 1993).

Defining Street Harassment, Stop Street Harassment Blog

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3 Responses

  1. Nikki

    Excellent post and great response! Perhaps now the aforementioned men will not have to fret over the possibility of having their reps tarnished by women who have some misguided and overly broad definition of what constitutes sexual harassment… since there are just so very many women with that particular problem out in the world…

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