Prevalence of Street Harassment and its Consequences
                                                                                                                                                     last updated 2 August 2013
Street harassment occurs in all parts of the world, is known by many names, and is often excused as a cultural practice. It affects women of all classes and ethnicities, in rural and urban areas.[1] Although there has been limited statistical and academic research on street harassment, national and international organizations combating street harassment have encouraged victims to submit reports of their personal experiences. As a result, there is a substantial amount of anecdotal evidence available on the issue. As the issue gains attention and interest, more scholars have undertaken research on the subject in an effort to determine the roots of this street harassment, the prevalence of the problem, and its consequences for women. See this page from the Stop Street Harassment website for the results of formal and informal surveys from twenty cities and countries.[2]
The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey covers much, but not all, of the behavior that constitutes street harassment, categorizing it under “non-contact unwanted sexual experiences:"
[…] those unwanted experiences that do not involve any touching or penetration, including someone exposing their sexual body parts, flashing, or masturbating in front of the victim, someone making a victim show his or her body parts, someone making a victim look at or participate in sexual photos or movies, or someone harassing the victim in a public place in a way that made the victim feel unsafe.[3]
The survey found that 33.7% of women polled reported having experienced non-contact unwanted sexual experiences in their lifetime, while 3% of women reported this type of harassment occurring within the last 12 months.[4] This category may not encompass less severe forms of harassing behavior that do not necessarily “make the victim feel unsafe” but constitute street harassment nonetheless because it is unwanted, irritating, disturbing behavior that targets women.[5]
Formal and informal surveys suggest that the majority of women have undergone some form of street harassment. For example, Hollaback Croatia interviewed 500 women in 2012 and found that 99% had experienced street harassment.[6] In 2012, Hollaback Poland found that out of 703 women polled, 85% had experienced this form of harassment.[7] A telephone survey of over 600 women in the United States found that “87 percent of American women between the ages of 18-64 had been harassed by a male stranger; and over one half of them experienced ‘extreme’ harassment including being touched, grabbed, rubbed, brushed or followed by a strange man on the street or other public place.”[8] Similarly, out of 500 women interviewed in Tel Aviv, 83% said they had been sexually harassed in public.[9] However, the majority of women who experience street harassment do not report the violation to the proper authorities. For more information, see Legal Redress for Street Harassment in the United States.
Street harassment, like sexual assault and rape, is not caused by a woman’s provocative clothing or behavior. Victims report being harassed while wearing all kinds of clothing, revealing and conservative.[10] The commonality of all of these victims, then, is not their clothing but their gender. Like other forms of violence against women, street harassment is about an assertion of power and control over the victim, rather than the victim’s sexual desirability. Blank Noise, an anti-harassment project in India, addresses the issue of victims’ clothing in one of their campaigns against street harassment. Through this campaign, called “I Never Ask For It,” the organization displays clothing worn by victims when they were harassed to show that the victim should not be blamed for harassment. Clothing is displayed on the streets and on the organization’s website to illustrate the wide range of clothing worn by victims.[11]
Street Harassment Limits Political Participation
In some cases, street harassment may be used as a political tool. For example, in early 2013, witnesses reported instances of what appeared to be organized, mass street harassment of women in and around Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. Large groups of men were reported to have coordinated their movements in order to surround and trap women so that they could sexually assault and rape them. The men used street harassment tactics such as invading the women’s personal space and groping them as a way to isolate the women from their companions. Read first-hand accounts from three victims of such violence in and around Tahrir Square here.[12] These frightening events reflect how seemingly “harmless” forms of street harassment can quickly escalate into more violent behavior.
These and other events since the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in early 2011 reveal how street harassment and sexual assault limit women’s political participation. Street harassment is a major issue in Egypt. It received wide media attention after incidents of mass harassment of women during the Eid al-Fitr holidays in 2006 and 2008 and is an increasingly worsening problem.[13] Although Egyptian laws against sexual harassment exist that can be applied to street harassment, they are rarely enforced.[14] However, during initial protests to oust then-president Mubarak, the streets of Cairo were surprisingly safe for women. At first, women reported unprecedented freedom from normally pervasive harassment; they protested unmolested alongside their male compatriots in the crowded Tahrir Square, even late at night. However, in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Mubarak, sexual harassment and assault resumed and worsened. Multiple instances of harassment and assault occurred the very night Mubarak was ousted, including the rape and assault of a prominent news reporter.[15] Women who had been considered vital voices in the protest against the dictatorship now found themselves victims of harassment once more. In a rally for women’s rights one month later, the protesters (the large majority of them women) were forced to disperse after men verbally and physically assaulted them.[16] For more information on sexual violence against women, see the Sexual Assault section of this website. For more information on anti-harassment organizations and activists in Egypt, see Street Harassment Advocacy Programs, below.
In the United States, similar disruptions of women’s political rights have occurred during Occupy Wall Street protests. Women protesters in at Occupy camps in multiple cities have reported assault and harassment.[17] Street harassment thus not only limits women’s physical presence in public spaces but also serves to silence them politically.
In Egypt, community groups are making efforts to protect women in public. For more information, see Egypt: Young Activists Fighting for Safety for Women in Cairo Streets, on this website. Also see HarassMap, an initiative that maps reports of harassment and assault in public spaces in Egypt and provides information for victims of street harassment.
Responses to Street Harassment
Because the majority of harassers are male, preventative measures need to address the reasons why some men engage in this behavior. Preventative measures should involve identifying the existing power structures between men and women that cause and perpetuate street harassment. Notions of masculinity and femininity also contribute to street harassment, particularly in cases where men use harassment as a way to show off to their other male friends. Finally, any examination of street harassment needs to consider how the media depicts women.
Street Harassment Advocacy Programs
In the past twenty years, activists and organizations have begun raise awareness about street harassment in the hopes that it will be recognized as a harmful and illegal practice. National and international organizations are conducting public awareness campaigns and encouraging victims and witnesses of street harassment to share their stories. These groups also conduct research on street harassment and provide training materials on ways to prevent and respond to street harassment. Organizations and individual scholars are also exploring ways to use existing laws to combat street harassment, and calling for legal reform where it is needed.
Hollaback and Stop Street Harassment are two major U.S. organizations working to end street harassment through education, research, policy reform, and advocacy training.
Hollaback conducts research on street harassment and provides resources for victims and bystanders to effectively prevent and respond to street harassment. It is also a forum for victim testimonies. There are Hollaback websites for many major cities in the U.S. and abroad, many of which feature city maps documenting the locations of street harassment reports.
Stop Street Harassment is a non-profit organization that provides information on the prevalence and form of street harassment as well as education and training resources on how to intervene. Like Hollaback and HarassMap (below), this organization provides an online forum for victims to share their stories. Reports of street harassment are recorded on an interactive map.
HarassMap is an Egypt-based initiative to end street harassment. It debunks myths about street harassment, provides information on relevant Egyptian legislation, and maps reports from victims of street harassment throughout Egypt. It is available in English and Arabic.
For links to other anti-street harassment programs and projects in the United States and elsewhere, see Research, and Reports.
Non-legal Remedies for Street Harassment
The issue of street harassment has gained attention in the past few years as a result of increased media attention. As a result, local organizations against street harassment are springing up in the United States and abroad. These groups spread awareness of street harassment as criminal behavior, call for policy reform, provide support for victims, and train victims and bystanders to respond effectively to harassers. Many organizations, such as HarassMap in Egypt, are harnessing the power of crowdsourcing to make the streets safer for women. Members of the public may text or go onto HarassMap’s website to report incidents of street harassment that they have undergone or witnessed. The location of the report is reflected as a dot on an interactive map of Egypt and color-coded according to type of crime (e.g. harassment, rape, indecent exposure, catcalls, etc.). The report may be viewed by clicking on the dot. In this way, HarassMap pinpoints locations where harassment and gender violence are prevalent in the region, while demonstrating that harassment is a widespread issue throughout the country. At the same time, this process gives victims an opportunity to share their stories and read others’ stories. Similar organizations are mapping harassment and assault in Bangladesh, Palestine, India, and Yemen, among other countries.[18] Stop Street Harassment provides instructions on how to set up mapping programs like these.
Street Harassment Tools and Materials
Bystander Campaigns
Often, the most effective way to stop street harassment in the moment is for bystanders to intervene. With the importance of bystanders in mind, and in an effort to educate the public about the dangers and prevalence of street harassment, activists throughout the world have taken the initiative to bring the issue of street harassment to light. Some organizations, such as Hollaback and Stop Street Harassment, provide tips and tools to help bystanders safely and effectively intervene.[19]
Victims may receive no assistance or relief from bystanders observing these violations.[20] In a 2013 survey in Ottowa, only 6% of respondents who had undergone street harassment said that bystanders intervened to help them.[21] Those who witness street harassment may be unsure of how to help, may not be certain that the behavior is harassment, or be waiting to act until the victim asks them to. Bystander effect, a phenomenon where no one in a large group of witnesses intervenes in an emergency situation (often because they believe someone else will help) may also be an issue. Furthermore, the harassers’ companions may feel uncomfortable criticizing their friend’s behavior, especially if the group is entirely male. Research suggests that there may be a cycle of paralysis at work in responses to street harassment. Victims may be uncomfortable asking for help for a variety of reasons, including because they see bystanders pretending not to notice the acknowledgment. Yet bystanders may be reluctant to intrude where they are not needed. As a result, both the victim and the witnesses may wait for a signal from the other.[22] Meanwhile, the harassment continues, the victim is further traumatized by what appears to be apathy from those around her, and the silence and inaction surrounding the incident solidifies street harassment as commonplace and trivial in the public mind.
The Men’s Anti-Violence Council has created bystander intervention comic strips to illustrate ways for men to safely intervene in situations of street harassment. See the first and second panels of a two-part comic.
The University of New Hampshire launched a campaign called “Know Your Power,” educating bystanders on their role and encouraging them to act when they hear or see that someone needs help.
Stop Street Harassment’s website has links to bystander campaigns, tips on effective bystander responses, and stories from those who found a way to help someone escape an uncomfortable or dangerous situation without disempowering the victim.
Hollaback has a step-by-step guide to intervening in a street harassment situation. Their tips include ways to help directly (e.g. telling the harasser to stop, asking the person harassed if they need help), by delegating responsibility to someone else (e.g. calling the police, asking other bystanders to help), or by distracting the harasser (e.g. asking the harasser what time it is, striking up a conversation with the victim as a pretext for distancing them from the harasser).
Egyptian communities are creating groups to support and protect women protesters:
Stop Street Harassment lists five important films about street harassment and tips for activists who want to make their own films. The films listed here include: War Zone (1998); Hey...Shorty (2007); Black Woman Walking; Objectified (2010); Sexual Harassment at Penn State.
“Street Harassment” website has a list of public service campaigns and other media aimed at ending street harassment:
Mobile apps
The Hollaback mobile app ( allows users to record and report street harassment. The website also provides links to other phone apps that may help keep women safer on the street, such as “bsafe” and “Circle of 6.”
Training for Male Allies
List of materials for male allies at Stop Street Harassment:
Bystander Training
For a bystander intervention model see the Hollaback Ottawa report:
Guidelines for Developing an Advocacy Program
Instructions for starting a local Hollaback branch:

Instructions for crowdsource mapping:                                   

[1] “Statistics – Academic and Community Studies,” Stop Street Harassment, accessed August 2, 2013,
[2] Ibid.
[3]M.C. Black et al., The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011. Accessed August 1, 2013,, 17.
[4] M.C. Black et al., 2010 Summary Report, 18.
[5] Hollaback Poland, Research on harassment in public spaces in Poland (2012), accessed August 2, 2013,
[6] Hollaback Croatia, Croatia Street Harassment Survey 2012, accessed August 2, 2013,
[8] Oxygen/Markle Pulse Poll Finds: Harassment of Women on the Street Is Rampant; 87% of American Women Report Being Harassed on the Street By a Male Stranger,” Oxygen/Markle Pulse Survey, The Free Library, June 22, 2000, accessed August 2, 2013,
[9] Ilan Lior, “Vast majority of Tel Aviv women report sexual harassment, survey finds,” Haaretz, November 23, 2011, accessed August 2, 2013,
[10] “Read & Share Stories,” Hollaback, accessed August 2, 2013,
[12]Testimonies on the Recent Sexual Assaults on Tahrir Square Vicinity,” Nazra for Feminist Studies, June 13, 2012, accessed August 1, 2013,
[13] Neama Ebaid, “Sexual Harassment in Egypt: A Neglected Crime: An assessment for the Egyptian Government performance in regard to the Sexual Harassment in Egypt,” Thesis, The American University in Cairo, 2012, accessed August 2, 2013,
[14] “Laws against sexual harassment in Egypt,” HarassMap, accessed August 2, 2013, However, an Egyptian woman successfully made a claim against her harasser in 2008 and he was convicted and sentenced to prison. “Egyptian sexual harasser jailed,” BBC News, October 21, 2008, accessed August 2, 2013,
[17] Alyssa Newcomb, “Sexual Assaults Reported in ‘Occupy’ Camps,” ABC News, November 3, 2011, accessed August 1, 2013,
[18] Crowdsource Maps:1. HarassMap: 2. Bijoya (similar format to HarassMap but focus on Bangladesh): 3. Ramallah Street Watch (similar to HarassMap but in Palestine): 4. Geographies of Violence - Delhi: 5. Safecity (India): 6. Safe Streets (Yemen - in Arabic):
See “Crowdsourcing tools to combat violence against women,” for summaries of some of these websites:
[20] Hollaback Croatia, Croatia Street Harassment Survey 2012, accessed August 2, 2013,
[21] Hollaback Ottawa, Our city, our space, our voice: A report on street harassment in Ottawa, July 2013, accessed August 2, 2013,