How Women Can Prevent Sexual Harassment and Assault

No one, man or woman, deserves to be harassed. Today I was reading an article about street harassment and I started thinking to myself, this doesn’t happen to me very often, why is that? I am in downtown New Haven constantly. I walk around town constantly. What makes me less of a target than these other women? Once I was able to answer that question for myself, it occurred to me that these women are fully capable of doing the same things that I do.

1. Carry Pepper Spray: Be sure to check with your local police department about what laws regarding carrying pepper spray may exist in your state. Here in Connecticut, it is legal to carry pepper spray, and you cannot be charged with assault if you use it to protect yourself. But not every state is the same. Even so, pepper spray is generally more frightening than a gun or a knife. I accidentally hit myself with my pepper spray a while back and I can tell you it is extremely painful. A lot of people know this, and simply pointing it in the direction of someone who is harassing you, or attempting to assault you, can deescalate the situation long enough for you to run away. And don’t feel bad if you spray someone who assaulted you, because their feelings don’t matter once they cross the line. Also, see this great how to video about how to use pepper spray:

2. Be Unapproachable: I know that we all want to be nice and social in public. When I am waiting for the city bus, the last thing I am interested in is being nice and social. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t chat with people on occasion, but, if someone is acting inappropriately toward you, don’t feel like you owe it to them to respect their feelings. If someone says something explicit to you, they certainly don’t respect you. Tell them very loudly to get away from you. If they don’t, walk away. If they follow you, find the nearest woman and stand beside her (Also tell your children, if they are ever lost, to find a woman with a baby). Get your pepper spray ready. If he continues harassing you, call the police. If he gets to close, tries to touch you, spray him.

Another way to be unapproachable is to never stand in the same place for too long. Men who are planning to harass or assault a woman in plain view of the public tend to slowly cozy up to you. Sometimes he’ll act friendly at first, until there are about a couple inches between you and him, and it usually escalates to him trying to put his arm on you, or touch you elsewhere. If you see a man trying to get cozy, walk away five or ten feet. If you are at a bus stop, and a bus pulls up that isn’t your’s, get out of that crowd. People who are so focused on boarding the bus, won’t be very good witnesses if someone touches you. These crowds are also dangerous because this is when pick-pocketing happens, given that everyone is preoccupied.

3. Don’t Act Intimidated: City atmospheres are busy and hyperactive. There’s lots of people moving around all the time, and it can be overstimulating. Understand that this will never change. It’s your duty to act like it is not bothering you. I have a severe crowd phobia, but I doubt anyone knows that.

Men who are planning to rob someone, or assault someone, typically pace in front of their target like a lion in a cage. If you see a man doing this to you several times, make eye contact with him. Let him know that you know he exists, and you don’t take your eyes off of him. He won’t like that, because he wants to creep up on you, so you can’t defend yourself. Get out your pepper spray and make sure he can see it. Eye contact is a threatening behavior, so there is a chance he may still approach you. Warn him not to come closer or he will be sprayed. If he doesn’t listen, spray him, and get away immediately.

A few years ago, I was downtown around 7:15 pm, and a man kept pacing in front of a high school student at the bus stop. This girl very loudly told him to leave her alone, which is how I knew what was happening. I got up from my seat and walked over to her, and took out my pepper spray. He continued to pace for several minutes and I watched him like a hawk the entire time. He finally got the message that I was not going to let up, and he walked away down the street. There were several more times that we saw him downtown, but he never behaved that way toward myself or this young woman again.

4. Don’t Tell People Your Personal Information/Business: This should go without saying, but sadly, it doesn’t. If you do talk to people, don’t tell them where you go to school, or where you work. Don’t give them your phone number, address, etc. Not even facebook. Granted, I do have conversations with people who take the same buses as me, and are students at my college, because I have seen them several times. And there are people who I see downtown often who never start trouble, and even look out for each other. So conversation is at your discretion. But the people I talk to, don’t know anything about me unless I want them to.

Don’t tell people your life story, either. No one you just met needs to know what your problems are. And if you are that willing to tell people every single aspect of your life, you are an easy target to be taken advantage of. If someone tries to tell you their life story, do yourself, and them a favor by letting them know you aren’t interested.

5. Don’t Let People Push You Onto the Bus: A lot of people over the years have shoved themselves against my back because they can’t wait to get on the bus. Don’t ever let someone get away with this. This is dangerous, not just because they can push you onto the ground, but they can also push you into someone else, who can fall and get hurt. This pushing behavior is also how people ‘cop a feel’. Unfortunately my butt has been felt or grabbed during situations like this. Whenever someone starts shoving me, I start backing up into them. This makes women stop it immediately. I have driven my elbows into the stomachs of men who do this. The stomach is a very weak point on a man, and it’s a larger area than the groin and much easier to get to. I have also had many loud arguments with people who shove, which often times has made the driver refuse to let them board the bus.

6. Don’t Give People Money: I don’t care how polite this person is, how in need they may seem, DO NOT GIVE THEM MONEY. I don’t care if they have a child with them, or if they are a child. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT GIVE THEM MONEY. That money will most likely be used for drugs, not food, not a bus fare. Also, do not buy anything off of anyone on the street. Whenever you make any kind of transaction on the street, every panhandler learns that you have enough money to give away. This opens you up to someone who is desperate, and might try to rob you. In addition, if someone approaches you, and says they are hungry, and you have some food with you, offer it to them. If they refuse it, then they aren’t actually looking for food. My favorites are the people who ask me to buy them food, and I offer them some food I have, and they refuse it. Those people are just trying to steal your credit/debit card information, or see where you like to store your purse or wallet so that they can try snatching it.

Why is this a way to prevent sexual harassment or assault? People who are looking for targets, are very observant. If they see you give things away, then that means to them that you will give away your body, too. You are easy to approach, easy to deal with, and you don’t put up a fight.

7. Don’t Dress Provocatively: I know that this is very controversial, but it has been my experience that whenever I have dressed in my nicer clothing, or in skirts, tank tops, or anything that shows some skin, I have been approached far more than when I am wearing sweatpants and a hoody. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been approached while wearing a variety of clothing. But my belief is, there’s only one reason why you want to show something off. Yes, we have the right to wear whatever we want, but our actions have reactions. If you are walking around downtown, or waiting for the city bus in a skirt that barely covers your butt, and your breasts practically hanging out, you have lowered your integrity. The lower your integrity is, the more of a target you become. It’s very easy for men to say you were asking for it, when you wear a for sale sign.

8. And lastly, Learn Self Defense: A woman who can defend herself physically, is a very powerful woman. Anyone can learn any type of self defense. I started training in Kenpo when I was 7 years old, and I continuously watch various self defense training videos on youtube. Visit the information desk/office at your college to see when they will have self defense classes. If they don’t do them, recommend that they do. Encourage people you know to do the same. Ask around to see if your town or city has a place that offers short term self defense training, or free classes. Visit your local martial arts school if you are interested in a particular style. You don’t have to be athletic or in shape to take these classes. You don’t have to have some special talent or be Bruce Lee. Self defense is for everyone. And don’t be afraid to hit someone who is trying to hurt you. An attacker sacrifices his/her well being the instant they attack you.


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