Street harassment syndrome: why men need to step up before it’s too late

January 19, 2011

Street harassment is thought by some people to be nothing more than harmless banter between the sexes.  Others see street harassment as the front lines in a battle between the genders.  I view street harassment as a more far reaching issue.  I believe street harassment can be described as a cultural disease that attacks the basic civility of society.

On the surface, street harassment shows itself in the form of inappropriate and threatening behavior by men towards women on the street or in other public areas. This learned behavior is infectious with certain urban areas such as New York City and Washington DC experiencing street harassment in epidemic proportions.

Beneath the surface, this disease, which I call Street Harassment Syndrome (SHS), is ripping the civil fabric of society. While SHS may have the most immediate effect on the young girls and women who are harassed, its damage doesn’t stop there.  SHS causes a degenerative cycle in the manner in which people treat each other.  Both men and women become accustomed and conditioned to treat each other with rudeness and indifference as opposed to politeness and compassion.

The less obvious, but wide spread symptoms of SHS can be seen in large cities where street harassment is the norm.  Some of these symptoms are (in no particular order):

  • The majority of women are afraid of men they encounter on the street.
  • Some men exhibit highly aggressive behavior towards women on the street.
  • The majority of women purposely ignore men they see on the street.
  • The majority of men become accustomed to being ignored by women on the street.
  • Some men view the majority of women as “bitches”.
  • Some women view the majority of men as “assholes”.
  • Some women change their routines and style of dress to avoid the attention of men on the street.
  • Both men and women become accustomed to “not getting involved”.
  • Some women develop angry reactionary responses to males.
  • Some men develop angry reactionary responses to females.
  • Men and women engage in a destructive cycle of finger pointing and blame.
  • Some women develop generally lower feelings of well-being.
  • Some men become passive and intimidated of more verbally aggressive men.
  • The majority of women learn to be silent and passive to verbal abuse.
  • The majority of men see “calling out” to women to be acceptable behavior.
  • Some men learn that outwardly aggressive behavior is an effective method to dominate both women and men.

The above examples are just some of the negative side effects of SHS.  The majority of these symptoms can be summarized as lowered feelings of safety, well-being, and civil behavior in the general population.

An incident of harassment is the wound that allows the entry of SHS into the culture.  Just like a contagious infection, the more incidents that occur, the faster the disease is able to spread throughout the culture.  What stops the inflection is a strong response from all members of society that both refutes and repels the behavior as it occurs.  Outspoken social disapproval from both men and women is needed in order to contain the spread of Street Harassment Syndrome and to ultimately remove it from society.

– Erik Kondo

Erik is the founder of the self defense nonprofit Not-Me!

This post is part of the weekly blog series by male allies. We need men involved in the work to end the social acceptability of street harassment and to stop the practice, period. If you’d like to contribute to this weekly series, please contact me.

Belizean Culture

June 11, 2010

I never experienced street harassment until I moved to Belize, Central America almost 9 years ago. I always thought that only very attractive women were harassed, as was my experience growing up and living in the USA. There is no ONE story of harassment in Belize. It happens to almost all women nearly everyday, from little girls in primary school uniforms to elderly grandmothers. We are constantly harassed on the street for the simple fact of being women.

Harassment takes all forms from some, “hey, beautiful!” to graphic descriptions of what men want to do to you, to touching and following. A particular Belizean practice is a “hissing” noise that sounds like how someone would call a dog. Many times the ones who touch or follow are drunk or under the influence of something else. One of the most disheartening things is that all my female friends can talk with “reasonable” men we know and be told how it makes us feel, ruins our days, etc. and we are told we should be flattered and that lots of women “like” it and respond positively to it. I’ve been told over and over, “it’s just a part of Belizean culture.”

It’s not uncommon to see police officers IN UNIFORM harassing women. Sometimes we chose to ignore, sometimes to speak up assertively, and sometimes use humor to diffuse. As a self-defense instructor working with women and girls, this concerns me. I thank you for this forum to share experiences, tips and ideas! Until street harassment ends, women will remain “second class citizens.”

– S. Renee Wentz

Location: Belize

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Include your location and it will be added to the Street Harassment Map.

Weekly Round Up Jan. 24, 2010

January 24, 2010


I accept street harassment submissions from anywhere in the world.
Share your story!

In the News:


  • Want an easy way to report harassers from your phone or want to receive a report showing all the places harassment has recently occurred? Then vote for HollaBack 2.0! This is a proposed project by HollaBack NYC and RightRides and they’re in the second round of a competition for funding to make this a reality.


Resource of the Week:

Egyptian women fight street harassment with karate

September 22, 2009

“What should be a leisurely stroll through Cairo’s streets, for some women has become more like a gauntlet run… Campaigners say the male-dominated society leaves women feeling vulnerable and unprotected by traditional forces like the police.

Al Jazeera’s Amr el-Khaky met one group in Cairo, Egypt’s capital, who are taking the fight into their own hands: they are taking lessons in karate.” – AlJazeeraEnglish

I’ve written about street harassment in Egypt a lot across this past year. To add to the list — here’s an interesting video called “Egyptian women fight harassment” on the AlJazeerEnglish youtube channel that’s definitely worth a look. Many related videos show up after the end of the video clip if you’re interested.



Street Harassment Round Up – June 14

June 14, 2009

New Feature:

  • Visit the Stop Street Harassment Website’s “Map It” page to see where various street harassment incidents have occurred – click on the pushpins to read their stories. (Note: if the pushpins don’t show up at first, try refreshing your browser once or twice. Not sure why this is happening but refreshing eventually makes them show up). Submit your story.


  • On this blog, a young woman in London, Ontario, Canada, tells how a boy slapped her on the backside from his bike while she was running. Her anger at the harassment led her to write an article about street harassment for her college.
  • On Holla Back NYC, a contributor tells how a man groped her under her dress while she was buying a Metrocard at the subway!
  • Holla Back DC! has a contributor post from a woman who used to be catcalled every day in her neighborhood and one day a man followed her and threatened her by saying her address and saying he’d come find her, so she better not go to sleep!

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem!

In the News:

  • Emily May of Hollaback NYC wrote an op-ed for New York’s Metro newspaper about how harassment and other misdemeanors must be included in the MTA’s crime count because without subway transparency, the crimes will continue unabated.
  • In Salt Lake City, UT, a man was arrested for groping two women (two different incidents) in public. The police fear there may be other victims and encourage any to come forward.
  • In San Francisco, CA, a man was reported to police for sexually assaulting women on the Muni transit system. Anyone with tips about the man can call (415) 553-1651.

Upcoming Events:

Street Harassment Resource of the Week:

Street Harassment Round Up – April 19

April 19, 2009


Holla Back DC posted many compelling posts this week, but one of my favorites was about male allies: “Can you imagine the affect this would have if enough men stepped in and said this every time they saw sexual harassment occurring? We would see a positive change.”

On this blog, a contributor wrote about her success in stopping chronic harassers near her workplace.


ineveraskToday Blank Noise held a street harassment event in Bombay (visit their site for an update on how it went), where women were invited to bring an article of clothing they’d been harassed in and wear clothing they’d always wanted to wear but hadn’t for fear of harassment. Details of the event were e-mailed to the participants with promise of public participation.

Street harassment-focused self defense class by Defend Yourself occurred in DC on April 18. Read my post about attending it.

Emily May of HollaBack NYC has been selected for the Women Media Center’s second class of Progressive Women’s Voices (PWV) for 2009. The program aims to make women visible and powerful in the media everyday and the selected women like Emily are the “go-place for journalists looking for women sources, experts, and commentators.” Emily was selected in great part because of her work on HollaBack and her expertise on street harassment. Congrats, Emily, way to get the issue out there in mainstream media.

Upcoming Events:

April 22, a RightRides volunteer orientation in New York

April 29, Holla Back DC! blog launch party in Washington, DC

Speak Up!

April 19, 2009

When we’re harassed in public spaces, or in other settings for that matter, how can we respond? Lauren Taylor, a self defense instructor and long time women’s rights activist, helped attendees of yesterday’s Defend Yourself street harassment-focused self defense workshop learn some basic tactics.

While street harassment is not just women’s responsibilities to end when men are the harassers, and indeed we will have an impossible time ending it without the cooperation and support of men, learning tactics so we can stand up for and defend ourselves when we are harassed can be incredibly powerful. We have the right to be safe in public and use public spaces as often as we want. While most of us may not ever be in a life threatening situation or face physical harassment, just knowing we could defend ourselves if necessary can give us more confidence to go about our daily lives without letting the behavior, actions, or comments of others dictate how we live.

4-18-09-defend-yourself-class-in-dc-1After an opening discussion about who we (attendees) were and the impact street harassment has on our lives, Lauren engaged us in a group activity. On slips of paper, we wrote types of harassing behavior, from honking to physical assault. Then we placed the pieces of paper on a spectrum, from annoying to life threatening, depending on what we thought about the severity of the action. Lauren led a discussion about the placement of the pieces of paper and helped attendees see street harassing in the context of men’s violence against women and workplace and school-based sexual harassment. The strategies she taught us can be modified to fit all these situations.

Lauren emphasized that any situation can escalate to violence and we must always think about what response will make us feel and be the safest. That may be ignoring or walking away from the harasser, which is fine, as long as that is our choice. If we do it because we don’t know what else we can do, that is not an empowering decision. The point of the workshop was to learn about other options.

Since most harassment women face is verbal, Lauren focused on verbal tactics. We practiced assertive responses to mock harassers and getting comfortable with speaking up. Practicing saying “no” in an assertive tone of voice, with a confident, strong stance was the base line. In a society where women in general (and many of us in the class said we had) have been socialized to be polite, try not to cause a scene, and look out for the feelings of others over our own, the simple act of saying “no” was both difficult and empowering.

Similar to suggestions from Martha Langelan in her book Back Off!, Lauren has a list of tactics for basic verbal self defense. Telling the harasser what you want is key. “Stop it!” “I don’t like that,” “leave me alone,” and “stop touching me” are all examples of direct responses you can say to a harasser. We practiced these phrases while exuding strong body language, tone of voice, and facial expression. We also role played different harassment scenarios, taking turns playing a harasser and harassee and responding on the fly to the harassment we received. Role playing was challenging, but useful in seeing how it feels to stand up for oneself and hold one’s ground when confronted by not only a harasser, but a persistent harasser.

Two workshop attendees and instructor Lauren (right)
Two workshop attendees and instructor Lauren

We also tried out a few simple physical self defense moves for the times when the harassment escalates. These moves included pushing the palm of our hand to the nose or chin or a harasser, our elbow to their throat, stomping on their feet, and elbowing someone standing behind us. We practiced yelling, “No!” at the same time to not only emphasize our feelings, but because, in a real situation, yelling could attract the help of bystanders.

The workshop closed with attendees sharing ideas for ending street harassment. Sharing our street harassment stories and informing the boys and men in our lives about the extent of this problem were the most frequently suggested ideas. You can share you stories by submitting them to stopstreetharassmentATyahooDOTcom and they’ll post on this blog. Here are other suggested strategies.

I want to continue practicing role playing, standing up for myself, and having an assertive response to harassers because my inclination is to freeze, try to get away, or try to appease and humor the harasser until they stop. None of those reactions is empowering. While in some instances those behaviors may be necessary for safety or convenience sake, I’d also like to easily have an assertive response.

In sum, this class was wonderful and I highly recommend it.

Has anyone else taken a self defense class? Has it helped you deal with street harassers? Has it made you feel more confident?