3 Steps to Fight Street Harassment

Photo:  Stop Telling Women to Smile
Photo: Stop Telling Women to Smile

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership held a Tweetchat yesterday drawing attention to the role of street harassment as a barrier to walkability — especially for women.

Cat calls, patronizing enjoinders to “smile,” and more aggressive forms of harassment can make walking or biking uncomfortable or threatening.

Katie Matchett, an urban planner who writes about pedestrian issues at Where the Sidewalk Starts, still recalls getting harassed on the streets of San Diego as she was beginning her career 20 years ago. She says it’s up to everyone — men and women — to combat it:

1. Call it what it is.
Even now, street harassment is justified or explained away as harmless banter or “compliments.” When we call out harassment for what it is, we give victims the ability to address it appropriately, instead of making them feel like they are the ones doing something wrong.

2. Respond.
Street harassment is about power, and figuring out the right response is difficult when you’re already in a position of vulnerability. Stop Street Harassment is one great resource for ways to respond effectively, providing info and links from the practical (“Using your voice, facial expressions, and body language together, without mixed signals, show assertiveness and strength.”) to the whimsical.

3. Be an ally. Street harassers get away with harassment because their victims can’t fight back. But often they’re surrounded by people who can fight back, but who choose to remain silent. This needs to change, both on and off the street. Not only should we refuse to tolerate street harassment in the moment, we also need to include more women in conversations about transportation and infrastructure. In the 20 years since that first urban planning job, I’ve spent a lot of time in meetings where women are sorely underrepresented. We can’t build transportation systems that work for everyone until we start hearing from everyone.

More recommended reading today: BikeWalkKC shares the good news — voters in Kansas City have approved an $800 million bond package that will provide $450 million for complete streets and $150 million for sidewalk construction. Greater Greater Washington remarks on the irony that Trump’s budget threatens to delay or kill the long-planned Purple Line light rail project while Trump himself complains that roads take too long to build. And Green Caltrain gives an update about efforts to save the Caltrain electrification project, which is also under threat in Trump’s scorched-earth budget.

  • SFnative74

    I’ve had success standing up for women who are being followed and harassed by aggressive cat callers. Oftentimes, you only need to distract the creep for a short bit while the woman can get far away enough or into a building to get away. Simply calling a guy out and telling him to leave her alone can totally throw off their game and change the dynamics of the situation enough to get them to back off. Has never led to any altercations or anything like that.

  • davistrain

    This was over 30 years ago, but I still remember it. Another tech and I were working in an office building in downtown Long Beach. For lunch, we decided to go to a restaurant owned by relatives of one of my railroading buddies. While walking to the eatery, we encountered a “street person” (middle aged white man) harassing a young Hispanic woman. He was mumbling something incoherent about her boots, and she looked to us for assistance. We formed up an “escort convoy” and accompanied her to the next cross street, where she thanked us and went about her business. I probably gave the obnoxious man a dirty look that discouraged him from following. As we went off and had lunch, I became angrier and angrier at the thought that a young woman couldn’t walk down the street without drawing unwelcome attention from the local scumbags. After lunch, we walked back to work, and the creep was nowhere to be seen. This was just as well, because I was ready to give him a sound thrashing that might have put him in the emergency room and me in the local calaboose.

  • pacman

    Interesting article! Thank you for sharing them! I hope you will continue to have similar posts to share with everyone! I believe a lot of people will be surprised to read this article!
    happy wheels

  • Acgogo Acgogo

    I’m in no way supportive of harassment of anyone. But the other day I was walking behind this woman who was wearing a legging about 2-3 sizes too small, red spiked heels and a sports bra, bare midriff… you get the picture. Every man on the street and many women were staring at her and making comments to each other tho not any she could hear. I was wondering if she was just clueless, or what. I wanted to say something to her, but what? I’m a guy and it would just have sounded all wrong. Like I wrote I don’t believe she should be shamed. Mostly because I really believe she shamed herself.

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