More Than 80% of Women Are Harassed, Just for Walking on the Street

As some of you may recall, two years ago I wrote a post on Feministing Community asking people to take an informal survey about gender-based street harassment for a book I wanted to write. More than 900 people took the survey and last year I signed a book contract. This week my book is out and available for purchase, Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women (Praeger Publisher). Thank you Feministing readers who took the survey and contributed their voices and stories to help raise awareness about this pervasive problem that impacts at least 80 percent of women worldwide.

Why I Wrote the Book:

Almost four years ago when I had to select a master’s thesis topic at George Washington University, I thought about all of the times men I don’t know have harassed me in public. Men have even chased and groped me, causing me great fear and disgust. I chose to write my thesis about street harassment and the ways women deal with it in lieu of legal remedies.

My thesis struck a chord and was featured on CNN. Soon after that in 2008, I founded the Stop Street Harassment website and blog; women around the world share their stories on the latter. In the last two years, my work has been featured in articles by the United Nations, CNN, Guardian, Globe and Mail,, AOL, Ms magazine, Feminsting, and Jezebel. Recently I have written about street harassment for, Huffington Post, Oregonian, and AOL.

Because there are almost no books about street harassment, but it’s clearly an issue that most women face, my parents encouraged me and then I finally decided to write a book about it. In the book, in addition to discussing facets of the problem, the last four chapters focus on what we can do about it. In them I feature the work of many activists, like HollaBack NYC, DC, & Toronto, Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team, Men Can Stop Rape, Blank Noise, and the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights.

As we all know, this is an issue that impacts women worldwide, especially young women, but few people talk about it. I encourage you all to speak out on this issue and help make street harassment socially unacceptable behavior. You can find strategies and suggestions for this on my site and info specifically for men on my blog.

Thank You:

I also want to give a special thank you to Feministing editor and amazing author Courtney Martin. I wrote to her two years ago asking for suggestions on writing a nonfiction book proposal and she generously helped me (a stranger to her) and I am sure that helped me secure a contract. She also read and reviewed my book this spring and a quote from her is found on the back cover. I am so appreciative of this support – we all gotta have each other’s backs as we work to make the world a better place. Courtney walks the talk!

Join the Conversation

  • Redpine

    The author cites a survey instrument in which respondents self-select. If I remember my research methods course correctly, these surveys can be useful to assess what issues are out there and to characterize the issues (in this case street harassment), but cannot be used to determine the extent of the issue. This is because self-selected surveys are biased toward those most interested in the issue. To determine the extent of an issue, a random population needs to be selected.

    If the respondents are self-selected, as they appear to be, the “80 percent of women” statistic would need to be qualified with “of women who received and responded to the survey”. It would also be important to note that targeted recipients included readers of blogs like feministing as this would also be a bias. To extrapolate the survey results to women worldwide would be inappropriate. It would be like asking readers of Glen Beck’s website if they thought Obama was a socialist and then concluding that 90% of Americans think Obama is a socialist.

    The use of an indefensible statistic can detract from the valid message that women should not be harassed on the street.

    Perhaps the number came from a different, random survey, which could make it valid to estimate the extent of the problem, but I see no indication of that. Also, it would be interesting to note what percentage of men have similar experiences. I have… well, did many moons ago.

    • a male

      I don’t look like, e.g. Justin Bieber, therefore strange women do not “make passes” at me in public. I don’t have people who engage in stalking behavior to interfere with my life.

      However, I am highly self conscious of being e.g. 41 years old with acne, or not having the money to dress well or drive a car less than 17 years old, or being Asian, short, or unathletic, with untanned, hairy legs. If I see or hear groups of girls or women laughing or making comments, I check to see if they are talking about me.

      And if they are, it hurts. It keeps me from going to public places like the beach or pool (despite living in Hawaii) or going to the gym or out to exercise to do something about it. It matters quite little to me that I am supposed to be the one with power and privilege. “Shut up bitch” would hardly silence a group of malicious or inconsiderate women who judge people by appearances, and probably serve to provoke a more serious response. Telling them how they hurt my feelings wouldn’t be expected to stop them or change them, either.

      • Holly Kearl

        @a male I certainly am aware that men are harassed and can feel excluded from public places because of factors like their appearance, race, sexual orientation, class, nationality, or disability. There are women who are, too. I am not trying to discount that reality and those are terrible social problems, too. My point is women – ANY women – can also face harassment just for being female and that harassment is usually trivialized or called a compliment or framed as a woman’s fault for “asking for it.” That’s what I’m trying to address and change.

    • Holly Kearl

      @Redpine. I should have been clearer about where the 80% came from. In my informal survey, which yes, can be seen as selective, it was actually 99% of women who said they experienced street harassment. In every FORMAL survey I’ve examined about harassment in public spaces, the results have been at least 80%, with several resulting in 100%. The formal studies I looked at included ones conducted in Chicago, Indianapolis, the CA Bay Area, Dehli, India, all of Canada, and all of Egypt. Even studies that only focused on sexual harassment on public transportation had results showing that anywhere from 1/4 to 2/3 of women experience it there, let alone other public spaces.

      • Redpine

        Good to know. Thanks for the response.