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Street Harassment: An Unwanted Behavior

Street Harassment by definition is the unwanted verbal physical and/or visual behavior perpetrated by strangers in the context of urban areas: and it is a wide context mostly related to the concept of public spaces than strictly "the street". It also happens in stores, restaurants, movie theaters, malls even public transportation, in all of those contexts the unwanted behavior can take place

“Street harassment” describes unwanted interactions in public spaces between strangers that are motivated by a person’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, or gender expression and make the harassee feel annoyed, angry, humiliated, or scared.”
Stop Street Harassment Organization's report (2014)

The strangers that perpetrate the harassment are, according to most studies, men (in more than 80% of the cases). Another main characteristic of street harassment is the fact that it happens more in very transited streets than in less noisy and less foot trafficked areas.

There is no proven correlation between culture and frequency or intensity of street harassment: there are societies with very long geographical distances and very different values between them that experiment with the same level of street harassment; it happens in developed or undeveloped countries.

Illustration by Karolyn Schnoor for The New York Times

Street harassment involves a wide variety of unwanted behaviors: such as whistling, catcalling, the request of name, number (unwanted by the victim), sexist comments, telling someone to smile, evaluative comments (positive or negative) about the victim’s physical appearance, ogling (staring in a lecherous manner), sexually explicit demands, vulgar gestures, homophobic or transphobic sentences, following, flashing or public masturbation, grabbing, rubbing and sexual assault. In some cases, the victims of street harassment remain silent because it attempts against their own reputation: there are contexts in which the tendency is to blame it on the victim.

But definitely, the worst part of it is the broken window theory, which says that this behavior is just an antecedent for an individual that is going to develop more and more important anti-social behaviors. Over 60% of harassed men and women got concerned that street harassment could escalate into something worse.

“Broken window theory, academic theory proposed by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in 1982 that used broken windows as a metaphor for disorder within neighbourhoods. Their theory links disorder and incivility within a community to subsequent occurrences of serious crime.”
Illustration by Keely Reyes

Studies (Arancibia et al. 2015, Chafai, 2017, Fileborn 2013 and Logan 20