Surviving Summer Time Street Harassment

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This weekend is memorial day weekend which means, it’s the official start of the summer season. But, for many of us, the unofficial start of the season is marked by an uptick in cat calling, shouting, honking, whistling, and general f*ckery. Warmer weather means more people hanging out outdoors and on the streets, and it also means that for whatever unknown reason, a man might respond to the sight of your shoulders in a tank top as if he is seeing a part of the human body he never knew existed before. Here’s how to survive the barrage of unwanted attention and harassment we will all suffer in the coming months. If you’re not into dog whispering (turning the tables on the harassers), you can try these tips.

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1. Put on your headphones. 

Nothing like putting on large, indiscrete headphones to make it clear that you do not intend to engage with anyone under any circumstances when you’re walking down the street. Headphones are a subtle and symbolic way of saying, “Don’t f*cking talk to me, and if you do, I’m not listening”. While they don’t always completely stop men from shouting at you as you walk down the street, at the very least they make it known that whatever is said to you won’t be heard– something which I have found has discouraged a lot of men from rolling down their windows berating me about getting my number.

2. Ignore street harassers as much as possible. 

In the event that you don’t have a pair of headphones on you, or you’re walking with a friend and can’t be wearing them, do your best to completely ignore street harassers entirely as long as they are not touching you or physically assaulting you. Granted, this can sometimes be extremely difficult. I’ve had men literally follow me for seven blocks yelling at me and calling me “b*tch” because I refuse to engage with them, but ignoring street harassers is usually the best thing to do in order to avoid escalation of the situation. Remember, although it can be extremely satisfying to shout angry expletives at harassers who won’t leave you alone, you may risk actual physical assault by doing this. Your safety is the most important thing, so even though it’s f*cked up, and unjust, try your best to keep your head down and get away from the harasser. If possible, you can wait until you’re in a safe environment to tell your harasser to f*ck off. I once waited until the subway doors had closed between me and a group of men who were speaking about my body to each other loudly to give them the middle finger.

3. If someone is physically assaulting you, BE LOUD. 

If someone decides to grope you in the subway, or touch you on the street, be as loud as possible and tell them to get their hands off of you immediately. Draw as much attention as possible in order to get help, and so that the offender may feel some sort of shame for their actions– this will hopefully get them to stop. If not, you can try threatening to call the police. It’s up to you to decide whether or not to actually do so, but anyone touching or groping your body in a sexual manner in a non consensual way IS illegal, so you don’t have to let a creep get away with it.

4. Help your friends. 

If you’re traveling in a group and a harasser starts to target one friend in particular and will not leave her alone, intervene by telling the harasser that your friend “does not want to speak to them”. I had a friend do this once for me when we were being followed by someone who wouldn’t go away, and when my friend intervened he became embarrassed. He did get angry, but eventually left us alone.

5. Travel with pepper spray. 

I’ve never had to use it, but it always makes me feel safer and more confident when I am being street harassed knowing that I have a means to defend myself on me.

6. Take your harasser’s picture 

Taking a photo or video of your harasser can scare them into leaving you alone. Use your iphone to snap a pic. If you’re feeling generous, you can post the photo online and alert your friends or family who live and work in the area you were harassed, groped, or assaulted. This tactic is two fold in that it discourages harassers through the possibility of public shaming, and it allows people to steer clear of a harasser if they recognize them from the photo you took.

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While we should all be able to walk in public space without feeling discomfort or threatened by the actions of the people we share the street with, the reality is that we are too often faced with the exact opposite. Surviving street harassment means doing first and foremost the things that will keep you safe from violence and assault on the streets, but being angry is a normal reaction. When possible, engage in practices that allow you to feel confident, carefree, and unbothered.

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