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Many people think that because our project is called “hollaback”, we endorse yelling at harassers in every circumstance. Not so. Hollaback! was founded because after yelling at harassers, we were left frustrated and angry.
Hollaback! thought it if victims shared their stories on a blog, it would bring much needed attention to the issue, and ultimately, shift the culture that makes street harassment OK. The strategy seems to be working pretty well so far, but we understand that sometimes you want to do more than just tell your story. For those times, we’ve adopted this guide from Holly Kearl’s Stop Street Harassment blog, below. Holly has also included ideas from Martha Langelan, Lauren R. Taylor, and Dr. Bernice Sandler. Let us know if you have ideas of your own, too!
To begin, there is no overall “best” way to respond to every harasser in every circumstance. You have to make that call, and your safety is your first priority!!! That said, here are a range of ideas for responses you can use that hold harassers accountable for their behavior..
1. Use strong body language. Look the harasser in the eyes; speak in a strong, clear voice. Using your voice, facial expressions, and body language together, without mixed signals, show assertiveness and strength.
2. Project confidence and calm. Even if you do not feel that way, it is important to appear calm, serious, and confident.
3. Do not apologize, make an excuse, or ask a question. You do not need to say sorry for how you feel or what you want. Be firm.
4. You do not need to respond to diversions, questions, threats, blaming, or guilt-tripping. Stay on your own agenda. Stick to your point. Repeat your statement or leave.
5. Do not swear or lose your temper: This type of reaction is the most likely to make the harasser respond with anger and violence.
6. Decide when you’re done. Success is how you define it. If you said what you needed to say and you’re ready to leave, do so.
1. Name the behavior and state that it is wrong. For example say, “Do not whistle at me, that is harassment,” or “Do not touch my butt, that is sexual harassment.”
2. Tell them exactly what you want. Say, for example, “move away from me,” “stop touching me,” or “go stand over there.”
3. Ask them if they would want their mother, sister, daughter, girl friend, wife treated like they are treating you.
4. Make an all-purpose anti-harassment statement, such as: “Stop harassing women. I don’t like it. No one likes it. Show some respect.” Speak it in a neutral but assertive tone.
5. Use an A-B-C statement (and be very concrete about A and C): Tell the harasser what the problem is; State the effect; and What you want. Here is an example: “When you make kissing noises at me it makes me feel uncomfortable. I want you to say, ‘Hello, ma’am,’ from now on if you want to talk to me.”
6. Identify the perpetrator: “Man in the yellow shirt, stop touching me.” (This is especially useful if other people are nearby, like on a bus).
7. Attack the behavior, not the person. Tell them what they are doing that you do not like (“You are standing too close”) rather than blaming them as a person (“You are such a jerk”).
8. Use the “’Miss Manners’ Approach” and ask the harasser something like, “I beg your pardon!” or “I can’t believe you said that,” or “You must have me confused with someone to whom you think you can speak that way,” combined with facial expressions of shock, dismay, and disgust.
9. Ask a Socratic question such as, “That’s so interesting – can you explain why you think you can put your hand on my leg?”
10. If the harasser is in a car, write down the license plate of the car. Even if you can’t see it, pretending to write it down can scare the perpetrator into stopping. If the harassers are aggressive or threatening and you do write down the license plate number, you can report them to the police.
11. Buy a notebook and write in bold letters on the cover “Street Harassment.” Take out the notebook when you are harassed and ask the harasser to repeat himself so you can write it down. Make a big show of asking for the date, time, checking the place you are at, etc. If they ask why you’re writing things down, you can say you are keeping a record of harassment.
12. Tell the harasser that you are conducting a street harassment research project or survey. Take out a notebook and start asking them questions such as, “How often do you do this?” or “How do you choose which people to harass?” or “Are you more likely to do this when you are alone or when you’re with other people,” or “Do you discuss people you harass with your mother, sister, or female friends?”
The book Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women includes further information on responding to harassers, including a number of examples and success stories.
Sometimes circumstances are such that assertive responses or reporting harassers can’t or hasn’t worked or don’t feel like comfortable options. That’s when it’s time to brainstorm what might work. Here are 5 non-traditional responses;
1. Jessie shared this story and photo on the Hollaback website about how she dealt with harassers at a construction site.
“There was a construction site near my house for several months. I had been avoiding walking near it whenever possible, taking the longer route between my home and my bus stop. One day I had the *audacity* to just take the faster way home. I figured that if I just walked fast and pretended to be on the phone that I would be safe. Wrong. Several men, both on the ground and on the building, started to yell at me. A couple of them even approached the fence to get as close as possible, making vulgar gestures and remarks. When I got home I made this sign and posted it late at night. I used zip ties to secure it to their fence, facing the busy street in front of the construction site. They didn’t manage to get the sign down until 9am – long after all the rush hour traffic got to read my message. On the back of the sign, I included the definition of sexual harassment and a special message for the assholes that made me feel unsafe in my own neighbourhood.”
3. In the late 1980s artist Ilona Granet design several anti-harassment street signs. Her goal was to “get the word out that women usually find street harassment unpleasant, annoying to grotesque, and intolerable.” One sign says, “Curb your animal instincts” in both English and Spanish and another says, “No Cat Calls, Whistling, Kissing Sounds.” They are made of the same type of material as a stop sign and are about the same size.
Granet exhibited her signs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and various traveling shows. Most impressively, she worked with the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) to get several of her signs posted in public for about a year. She was able to do so successfully in locations near the World Trade Center, the Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, Borough of Manhattan Community College, and Battery Park. Her signs generated a huge amount of press across the world, including radio, television, newspapers, and magazines.
4. In 2010, Lisa Robinson, her husband, and their five-year-old son were on the train, returning home from a day trip to Cardiff (Wales) where they had celebrated the son’s birthday. There were about 30 drunk Cardiff football (soccer) fans on the train with them. The men were harassing a female passenger on a train platform. When Robinson told them to stop, they began yelling seixst and obscene comments at her.
Robinson pulled the red handle to stop the train. She informed the conductor about the harassment and asked that he call the police. The conductor did nothing and started the train back up. Undeterred by the train conductor’s indifference, Robinson and her family got off the train at their stop and again asked that something be done about the rowdy men. The train conductor refused again. Robinson decided to do something more. She stood in the tracks! She would not move until the police were called. The transit police and local politicians all decried the behavior of the harassers and the conductor and applauded Robinson and the police opened an investigation.
Robinson said, “This is my community, this is my village. We’re not going to be bullied and certainly for women and families, they should be able to travel on the train in peace and quiet and go about their business without being bullied like that.”
5. The folks at The Riot created this handy form, from “The Riot’s Great Big Patriarchy-Smashing Activity Book!”
Some of our contributors or partners have mentioned that they’ve been attacked in public spaces.
While our number one priority is your SAFETY, we also recognize that it is important for all of us to educate ourselves on how to respond if we are indeed attacked.