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Street Harassment & Gender

What is Street Harassment?

Any unwanted or unwelcome attention from a stranger in a public place, such as on the street or on public transportation. Street Harassment may include whistling, suggestive comments, cat-calling, or pursuing a person on the street. Despite the different cultural contexts and social norms for behavior, street harassment is always inappropriate and is not your fault.

Who is the Target of Street Harassment?

Anyone can be a victim of street harassment. Most often women, LGBTQ+, and gender non-conforming individuals are the primary targets of this type of unwanted behavior.

How to Respond in the Moment

Try to Remain Calm

Keeping calm can help you respond effectively and keep you safe.

Ignore the Harassment

Often, a harasser is looking to get attention, whether positive or negative. Ignore the harasser and do not engage with them.

Be Loud and Firm in the Local Language

If ignoring the behavior is not possible because the person has become persistent, approached you or has begun to follow you, tell them to stop. Be loud and firm in telling the person to stop. It may be helpful to learn these words or phrases in the local language so you are prepared to use them with confidence in the moment. It is fine to repeat yourself – you do not need to come up with a new excuse to deter a persistent harasser.

Get to a Safe Place

As soon as it becomes possible, remove yourself from the situation. Walk away, find a store or shop to enter and stay there until you are comfortable to continue on your way. Call or text a friend or someone you trust. While your initial instinct may be to go straight home, if you believe you are being followed it is best to head to a public, visible location that is staffed during the night, and where someone is available to help you.

Immediate Danger

If you are in immediate danger, call the police.

Methods to Minimize and Mitigate Street Harassment

Research the Culture Prior to Traveling

Learning a little bit about the culture of your study abroad location can be helpful as you prepare for your experience in a new country. Different cultures have different concepts of personal space, male and female friendships, gender norms and social norms. Gaining a better understanding of these aspects of your destination will help prepare you for your study abroad experience, in addition to helping you be as safe as possible. The U.S. Department of State provides country advisories which also contain notes specifically for women and other diverse travelers.

Dress like Locals 

What you wear does not justify street harassment or make it okay. It is important to note that other countries do have different expectations and norms around what is appropriate dress in public. This is especially true if you are travelling to a more conservative country or area of the world. Dressing in a way that is more consistent with the local customs can help you become less of a target of street harassment and of other risks of being a tourist, such as pickpocketing. 

Walk with a Friend or in Small Groups

Having a friend with you as you visit the sites, walk to class, or walk home at night can be helpful to deterring unwanted interactions with strangers. If you aren’t able to walk with someone at night, don’t hesitate to call or text a friend so someone knows your location and knows you have arrived home safely.

Practice Situational Awareness

Be aware of what is happening around you, in terms of where you are, where you are going and whether anyone or anything around you is a threat to your health and safety. After a long day in class or sightseeing, you might become absorbed in your thoughts as you walk home in the evening – staying alert and aware of your surroundings can help you notice if something or someone is out of the norm, and allow you to make a quick decision to ensure your safety.

Walk Confidently and With Purpose

It’s always best to appear as if you know where you are going. Before heading out of the coffee shop, your apartment, or class, plan out where you will go next and look at the map and directions before heading out. Looking lost or frightened, or using the navigation features on your phone when walking around makes you appear more vulnerable. If you do need to look up directions, go into a store or café to review the map and directions again.

Managing the Stress of Street Harassment

Grounding Exercises

Quick mental activities like saying the alphabet slowly, counting backwards from 10, or repeating a mantra are all ways to help you feel calm and grounded as you deal with the immediate emotions that may arise from experiencing street harassment.

Self-Care

Engage in a self-care routine that works best for you. Reading, exercising, sleeping, journaling or any other activity that helps you feel better and alleviates your stress while you are abroad is a good idea.

Seek Medical Help

If you are experiencing physical or mental health impacts seek medical attention. For assistance in getting connected to the correct people, contact your host-country program coordinator, university or study abroad advisor.

Report the Harassment

If you’d like to report the harassment to local authorities, contact your host-country program coordinator for assistance.

Additional Resources

U.S. Department of State Information for Women Travelers

Tulane University Interactive Resource Guide  

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, call 504-920-9900 to speak privately with someone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Or, fill out our reporting form.