How to Respond in the Moment

To begin, there is no overall “best” way to respond to every harasser in every circumstance.You have to make that call, and your safety is your first priority.  That said, here are a range of ideas for responses you can use that hold harassers accountable for their behavior.
If you feel safe enough to RESPOND, here’s non-verbal communication that will help your words:
  • Always use strong body language: Look the harasser in the eyes; speak in a strong, clear voice. Using your voice, facial expressions, and body language together, without mixed signals, show assertiveness and strength.

  • Project confidence and calm. Even if you do not feel that way, it is important to appear calm, serious, and confident.

Here are Strategies on Speaking:

  • Be Direct and Firm: Do not apologize, make an excuse, or ask a question. You do not need to say sorry for how you feel or what you want. Instead of saying, ‘Excuse me…’ ‘I’m sorry, but…’ or ‘Please…’, say directly, ‘Stop doing X.’

  • Stick to your point. Do not get into a dialogue with the harasser, try to reason with them, or answer their questions. You do not need to respond to diversions, questions, threats, blaming, or guilt-tripping. Stay on your own agenda, and repeat your statement or leave. Let them know that their actions are unwelcome, unacceptable, and wrong.

  • DO NOT SWEAR or LOSE YOUR TEMPER: No harsh words or personal attacks. This type of reaction is the most likely to make the harasser respond with anger and violence and it also can make you seem like the one who is crazy or wrong when the harassment happens among a group of people, but no one sees what the harasser did to you.

  • Decide when you’re done. Success is how you define it. If you said what you needed to say and you’re ready to leave, do so.

Here’s What to Say:

  • Name the behavior and state that it is wrong.

    • “Do not whistle at me, that is harassment,” or “Do not touch me, that is sexual harassment.”

  • Tell them exactly what you want.

    • “move away from me,” “stop touching me,” or “go stand over there.”

  • Use statements, not questions if you tell them to leave you alone.

    • “Leave me alone,” not “Would you please leave me alone?”

  • Use an A-B-C statement (and be very concrete about A and C): tell the harasser what the problem is; state the effect.; and what you want.

    • “When you make kissing noises at me it makes me feel uncomfortable. I want you to say, ‘Hello, ma’am,’ from now on if you want to talk to me.”

  • Identify the perpetrator.

    • Man in the yellow shirt, stop touching me.” (This is especially useful if you and the harasser are together somewhere with other people around).