Public Sexual Harassment

Harassment of women in public places, such as streets and transport systems, remains a serious problem in many nations. Known as “eve-teasing” or street harassment, public harassment can be an issue in any country. To combat this type of harassment, which generally includes unwelcome sexual advances and physical contact, criminal codes should make such conduct a crime. (See: Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, para. 48, 2003)


In 2008, for the first time Egypt convicted a man for publicly groping and harassing a woman. According to reports, as many as 83% of Egyptian women experience sexual harassment. The victim in the Egyptian case, a 26 year old filmmaker, was required to bring both her attacker and her father to the police station before police would allow her to file assault charges. The perpetrator was convicted and sentenced to three years’ hard labor and fined 5,001 Egyptian pounds (US$895). This and other high profile incidents have led the Egyptian government to consider new legislation related to sexual harassment. (See: Egypt’s sexual harassment ‘cancer’, BBC News Online, July 18, 2008; Egypt moves closer to passing sexual harassment law, Reuters, Feb. 17, 2010) The Egyptian government has also recently initiated a campaign to use religion in order to combat harassment. The government distributed a booklet to 50,000 imams across Egypt to raise awareness of the problem and to suggest strategies for imams to tackle the issue. (See: In Egypt, Invoking Islam to Combat Sexual Harassment, Time, July 10, 2009)



Policy solutions [See also the Safe Cities Module]

In many countries public harassment can technically be prosecuted under criminal indecency and assault laws but the problem of public harassment can be difficult to control through the criminal law. In Japan for example, public harassment is illegal under Article 176 of the Penal Code but a 2004 study reported that more than 60% of Japanese women between the ages of 20 and 30 had been subjected to unwanted sexual touching in the public transit system. (See: Japan Tries Women-Only Train Cars to Stop Groping, ABC News Online, June 10, 2005) In India, Japan, Mexico and elsewhere the problem has been so severe that governments have opted for a policy solution and provided separate accommodation for the sexes on public transit systems.  

Grassroots organizations in the UK and US have started public campaigns to raise awareness about street harassment of women. Often web-based, these campaigns allow users to share their stories and provide strategies for confronting and reporting public harassment. 

  • Hollaback (global): Provides resources and discussion forums, along with a phone based mapping application. Has advocates working on street harassment in 62 cities around the world.
  • Harassmap (HM) (Egypt): an initiative using a mobile phone reporting system to combat sexual harassment in Cairo. Women send messages to HM’s number or post to its blog to explain what transpired and where. HM’s team verifies the reports, mapping them on a public website (in Arabic).
  • The BlankNoise Project (India): Along with a blog, public poster campaign, and other initiatives, the project has asked women to mail in the clothes that they were wearing when harassed, along with a description of what happened.  Creating installation art with the clothing, the project aims to dispel the myth that women’s dress invites harassment.
  • The Street Harassment Project (USA): A website that shares events, provides options for redress, and offers women the chance to report harassing behavior.
  • Safe Streets Campaign (Yemen): Safe Streets hosts a hotline where women can report street assault and harassment.  The group also has produced the film, Safe Streets, and published a book and hosted and art exhibition about street harassment.