Definitions: What is Street Harrassment?

There are many definitions of “street harrasment” or “public harrassment”, many of which point to the same set of words and actions. Below, you can find definitions we have put together from different sources.

 Hollaback! NY
“Street harassment is a form of sexual harassment that takes place in public spaces. At its core is a power dynamic that constantly reminds historically subordinated groups (women and LGBTQ folks, for example) of their vulnerability to assault in public spaces. Further, it reinforces the ubiquitous sexual objectification of these groups in everyday life.”
“Unwelcome words and actions by unknown persons in public which are motivated by gender and invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary, or insulting way.”
“An interaction in a public space that makes you feel sexualized, intimidated, embarrassed, objectified, violated, attacked, or unsafe. An interaction in a public space that restricts your movement or makes you modify your behavior in an attempt to avoid the possibility of being verbally and/or physically harassed.”

The Street Harassment Project

“Street harassment in its varying forms is an expression of male supremacy and sexism and a form of terrorization of women, with the ultimate effect of threatening any public activity.”

Maggie Hadleigh-West

” 1. To hurt, in a public space, by treating badly. 2. Unintentional degradation through ignorance. 3. To imply a physical, sexual and /or emotional threat through gestures, verbalizations, postures or grasping of body parts. 4. Coarse, deceptive, or insulting language. 5. Manipulative language that is seemingly “complimentary” and / or judgmental. 6. Unsolicited physical contact. ”

Cynthia Grant Bowman, Author of “Street Harassment and the Informal Ghettoization of Women” (1993) 
“Street harassment occurs when one or more unfamiliar men accost one or more women in a public place, on one or more occasion, and intrude or attempt to intrude upon the woman’s attention in a manner that is unwelcome to the woman, with language or action that is explicitly or implicitly sexual. Such language includes, but is not limited to, references to male or female genitalia or to female body parts or to sexual activities, solicitation of sex, or reference by word or action to the target of the harassment as the object of sexual desire, or similar words that by their very utterance inflict injury or naturally tend to provoke violent resentment, even if the woman did not herself react with violence.”

Carol Brooks Gardner, Author of “Passing By: Gender and Public Harassment” (1995) 

“Public harassment is that group of abuses, harryings, and annoyances characteristic of public places and uniquely facilitated by communication in public. Public harassment includes pinching, slapping, hitting, shouted remarks, vulgarity, insults, sly innuendo, ogling, and stalking. Public harassment is on a continuum of possible events, beginning when customary civility among strangers is abrogated and ending with the transition to violent crime: assault, rape, or murder.”

Jessica Valenti, Author of “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut…and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know”(2008) and executive editor of 

“While I’ve heard the argument that street harassment is actually a compliment – you know, because we’re supposed to be flattered that strange men are screaming at us about our asses – it’s really a super-insidious form of sexism. Because not only do perfect strangers think that it’s appropriate to be sexual toward any woman they want, but street harassment is also predicated on the idea that you’re allowed to say anything to women that you want – anytime, anywhere.”