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Harassment in the street, on public transport and in public spaces

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Harassment is a form of violence that can cause shame and fear.

Harassment comes in many forms: racism, sexism, agism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. Sexual street harassment is a form of sexual violence. There is nothing innocent about it.

Sexual street harassment consists of behaviours (words or gestures)…

  • that have a sexual connotation
  • that are intrusive and unsolicited
  • by strangers in public spaces (in the street, on buses, in train stations, shopping centres, parks, etc.).

Just because we see this kind of behaviour almost every day doesn’t mean it should be trivialized. It’s an indication that sexual violence is everywhere.

And just because harassment doesn’t always involve aggressive gestures or words doesn’t mean it’s not violent. Harassment is part of a continuum of violence.

The following are all examples of sexual street harassment:

  • When a driver makes a comment out their window to someone walking down the sidewalk about the size of their breasts, it’s not a compliment.
  • When a stranger interrupts someone reading in a park to ask for their telephone number, they’re not looking to make a new friend.
  • When a passenger touches someone’s chest on a crowded bus, it’s not “by accident because there’s not much space.”

Exhibitionism (or “flashing” one’s genitalia) can also be a form of sexual violence.  

These kinds of words and actions are not without consequences for the people to whom they are directed. Sexual harassment can cause shame and a negative self-image, sometimes even causing people to avoid certain places or use other modes of transport.

Victims of sexual harassment often think—wrongly—that they are responsible for attracting attention.

If someone harasses you, it is never your fault. You have the right to feel safe in public spaces and be free to make your own choices.