Mainly considered as a form of unwanted sexual attention, street harassment tend to not be acknowledged as a real form sexual aggression. In fact, most people tend to think it should be taken by the victim as a compliment, and therefore gratefully accepted. But in reality, surveys have proven that most victims experience strong feelings of anger, anxiety and fear that can lead in the long-term to low self esteem, objectification or depression.
According to the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), sexual harassment is defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature”. As it is precised by the EEOC, ‘unwelcome’ does not mean ‘involuntary’, and whether a sexual conduct is considered as offensive or not is up to the person receiving them. Although sexual harassment is most common in the workplace, it can also occur in different environments such as school or even family. Street harassment differs from “common” sexual harassment in the way that it happens in public places such as streets, public transports, bars, etc. and is committed by strangers.
Whereas women are the most common reported victims, but men also experience sexual harassment (mostly in the work place). In fact, as Cheryl Benard and Edit Schlaffer mention it in their paper “The Man in the Street” : why he harasses ?, « Like other forms of sexual violences, harassment has little to do with the individual woman[/man] and nothing to do with sex; the issue is power ». This means that, whether it occurs in the workplace or in the street, sexual harassment is a way for the harasser to prove that he/she is a member of the “ruling group” and is therefore a consequence of every kind of discrimination : sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.
According to the website stopstreetharassment.com « Street harassment is an under-researched topic, but it’s clear from the few studies that exist that it is a significant and prevalent problem ».
A 2 000-person survey conducted by Stop Street Harassment showed that 65% of all women had experienced street harassment. Among the women responding to the survey, 23% had been sexually touched, 20% had been followed, and 9% had been forced to do something sexual. Among men, 25% had been street harassed (with a higher percentage belonging to the LGBT community) and their most common form of harassment was homophobic or transphobic insults (9%).