Understanding Public Street Harassment & What Can Be Done to Combat it in South Africa
Imagine a world free of public street harassment – one where you can walk anywhere and feel safe. It seems too hard to imagine. Simple things such as running errands can be mundane and seemingly effortless tasks, but for some people, it can be a source of immense anxiety due to street harassment. Public street harassment is a major concern facing women, non-binary & gender non-conforming people as well as children in South Africa which has been ignored for far too long. Unfortunately, Public Street Harassment has been normalized in our day-to-day life and plays a huge part in not only Gender Based Violence but Rape Culture in South Africa.
What is Public Street Harassment?
Public Street Harassment and harassment, in general, can come in the form of physical and verbal abuse. It often correlates with sexual intent and violates a person’s right to safety. According to the U.N. and other Global Organizations, Public Street Harassment “is considered a Human Rights issue” as this restricts a person’s power and right to enter public spaces safely and comfortably. >
It is important to know the different types of harassment, how to recognize them, and how to report them if they violate your rights. According to Rainn.org harassment includes the following behaviors:
- Comments, requests, and demands
- Commenting on physical appearances, such as someone’s body or the clothing they’re wearing
- Continuing to talk to someone after they have asked to be left alone
- Flashing, following, stalking, staring, whistling, groping, or telling someone to smile
- Intentionally invading personal space or blocking the way
- Persistent requests for someone’s name, number, or other information
- Public masturbation or touching
- Sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic slurs, or any comments insulting or demeaning an aspect of someone’s identity
- Showing pornographic images without someone’s consent
- Taking a photo of someone without their consent
- Up-skirting, which is taking a photo up a skirt or dress without that person’s permission
The impact of Public Street Harassment on South African women, non-binary & gender non-conforming people, and children
Women, non-binary & gender non-conforming people, and children in South Africa regularly face “state-facilitated” and “socially-practiced” violence and discrimination from a historical standpoint compared to their male counterparts. This feeds off the deep underlying misogyny and patriarchy we face in this country.
Street harassment is a common issue that harms both those who experience it and communities as a whole. It can make people feel unsafe, intimidated, and powerless in public spaces. Street harassment can lead to physical and psychological trauma, as well as discourage people from participating in public activities. This form of harassment also has long-term effects on the community by creating an environment of fear and insecurity which can inhibit economic growth, social inclusion, and civic engagement. We must take steps to address this problem to create safe and welcoming public spaces for everyone.
How can you respond to street harassment?
- No one should have to feel unsafe in their community. Unfortunately, street harassment is a reality for far too many of us. Street harassment is not just an inconvenience or a joke – it can be extremely traumatic and dangerous. Here are a few general safety tips, but the best advice is to speak up, trust your intuition, and know that your voice matters!
- Be aware of your surroundings and stay alert. We wrote a blog post on situational awareness to help you understand how best to navigate your day.
- Trust your intuition at all times! If you sense someone is invading your personal space, scan your environment for other people, shops, or security guards. Navigate towards a more crowded area and ask someone who looks trustworthy for help, or stand with them until you feel it is safe to proceed. A “trustworthy” person could be a mom with children, for example.
- If you can and time allows, contact a family member or friend, inform them about the situation and ask them to support you or pick you up.
- Unexpected situations can quickly escalate and leave you feeling vulnerable. We advise you to carry some type of self-defence tool, such as an alarm keychain, which you can use to set off an ear-piercing alarm that will scare off a harasser and activate your surroundings. Click here and check out the range of products to help you stay secure in a threatening situation.
- You shouldn’t feel scared or ashamed to speak out when you experience street harassment. It can be difficult to build up the courage to speak up, but you don’t have to do it alone. Report it to the police or talk to a trusted person, such as a friend or professional counselor, about how you want to handle the situation.
- You must make sure your safety is always a priority!
Organizations fighting against Gender-Based Violence and Harassment in South Africa
There are many campaigns and initiatives aimed at Public Street Harassment and Gender-Based Violence. The Frida Hartley Shelter, Tears Foundation, POWA, Thuthuzela Care Centres, and Childline South Africa are examples of organizations fighting against Gender-Based Violence and Harassment in South Africa by providing a support network for survivors of rape, sexual abuse, and harassment. We encourage you to support such organizations – big or small – your contribution goes a long way.
Here is a list of important numbers that you should ideally have on speed dial:
- Emergency number: 10111
- SAPS Crime Stop: 086 00 10111
- Ambulance services:
- National hotline: 10177
- ER24: 084124
- Netcare: 082911
- Fire department: 10178
- Human trafficking helpline: 08000 737 283 / 082 455 3664
- Heal (helpline for elderly people): 0800 003 081
We would like to acknowledge that seeking change and a better future takes unity and advocacy. We as a community could over time decrease the likelihood of Gender Based Violence and Public Street Harassment occurring in our country! It is our mission at Secanity to raise awareness and provide practical solutions to empower women, non-binary & gender non-conforming people, and children in South Africa. We hope this blog post was helpful! If you have any tips or thoughts you want to share, please drop a comment below.
And always remember: Be Woke. Be Smart. Be Heard.
- Street harassment part of SA’s rape culture, say experts on why men feel ‘entitled’ to women’s bodies | Drum (news24.com)
- South Africa: patriarchy, paper, and reclaiming feminism | openDemocracy
- South Africa: The Safe Ride Campaign | Stop Street Harassment