Men can stop street harassment

December 2, 2008

Street harassment and rape are related in many ways. For example, a fear that street harassment will escalate into a rape attempt is not an uncommon reaction for many women (especially when the harassment takes the form of stalking, physical contact, and sexually violent language).

Like rape, street harassment isn’t going to end until men – the majority of the perpetrators – work to end it. The fact is, women can take every precaution told to them (which limits their freedom and sense of safety) and some of them will still be raped or street harassed. The answer is for men to stop their behavior.

Women can help educate men to stop and can make men’s actions have consequences by reporting them, calling them out on their actions, and intervening when other women are harassed, etc. But ultimately, we can only accomplish so much without men’s cooperation and participation. I know that most men don’t engage in street harassment, just like most men don’t rape, but all men need to hold each other accountable for that kind of behavior and help make it socially unacceptable.

I just came across a “Ten things men can do to stop rape” list issued by Kansas State University and I’m adapting several of their suggestions to address ways men can stop street harassment:

Things that Men Can Do

  1. Be Aware of Language. Words often demean or put down women. Avoid using words like bitch, whore, ditz, bimbo, and ho and language that reduces women to their body parts. That language sends a negative message about females that devalues them. Seeing them in such a light makes it easier to treat them disrespectfully or to view them as stupid or to only value them in a sexual way.
  2. Speak Up. If your friends are engaging in behavior that is making women uncomfortable or that is clearly inappropriate, don’t participate, don’t encourage them, and tell them to stop. When you see street harassment occurring, intervene and help end the incident. You may not always see street harassment occurring but you will likely hear jokes and language that is inappropriate, makes light of rape or the harassment of women, or degrades women. When that happens, don’t laugh, don’t encourage the speaker, and tell him or her to stop.
  3. Support Survivors of Street Harassment. Street harassment will not be taken seriously until everyone understands how common it is and stops blaming women for its occurrence. In the U.S. alone, millions of women are harassed each year. By learning to sensitively support women who experience and report street harassment, men can help individuals feel more comfortable about coming forward and talking about what has happened to them (and may be happening to them quite regularly) and the impact street harassment has on their lives and well being.
  4. Talk with Women. Listen to women’s stories to learn how street harassment & the fear of rape affects their daily lives. Try to understand how it feels to be harassed or “complimented” over and over by random men. Conceptualize what it’s like to go in public and get followed or touched by a man or group of men after having been told since a young age that women are at risk of rape by strangers.
  5. Talk with Men. Talk about what it is like to be viewed as a potential harasser or rapist. Talk about how they would feel if a woman they loved was harassed on the street or in other public places. Talk about appropriate ways to express an interest in a woman you see in public.
  6. Contribute Your Time and Money. Join or donate to an organization working to prevent street harassment, like Right Rides in NYC.
  7. Work against ALL oppression. The harassment of women feeds off of all forms of prejudice including racism and homophobia. By speaking out against behaviors that promote one group as being superior to another, you support everyone’s equality.
  8. Don’t do it. Don’t ever harass a woman or do anything that may make her feel demeaned, uncomfortable, scared, or angry. If you are in doubt about a comment or action, just don’t do it. Act respectfully toward anyone you encounter.

Do you have other suggestions?