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How to Handle Catcallers

Sophie Sandberg, founder of the Chalk Back movement and Catcalls of NYC explains how to deal with street harassment.

Sophie Sandberg, founder of Chalk Back and Catcalls of NYC. Catcalling is usually defined as a rude, derogatory or unwelcome comment, whistle, kissing sound– or maybe even a literal meow. But it’s more than these passing jeers.

Catcalling, also known as street harassment, limits folks’ access to public space and often has a serious impact. My project, Catcalls of NYC*, documents catcalls on the sidewalks where they originally happened word-for-word with chalk to raise public awareness about the intense harms of the behaviour.

My team gathers submissions via Instagram DM of what was said and where it happened. Then, we go to those spots with chalk and write out what was said alongside the hashtag #StopStreetHarassment.


He’s literally the reason it isn’t safe #stopstreetharassment #chalkback

A post shared by @ catcallsofnyc on

The patterns of street harassment are disturbing. Young girls are being sexualised before they even hit puberty. Women of colour are being fetishised because of their race or ethnicity. Folks in the LGBTQ+ community are subjected to hateful homophobic and transphobic sentiments. The hardest part yet: figuring out the best way to respond.

On the one hand, it’s frustrating to not respond to objectifying, belittling, hateful, harassing comments. On the other hand, simply saying no to unwanted advances can provoke further harassment. Here are some ways to deal with this catch-22.

Clap back 

If you’re around other people and you feel safe and inspired, you can use a simple comeback. Sometimes people describe feeling frozen or unable to think in the moment they get harassed. If you anticipate wanting to respond, it’s good to have a go-to comeback. Something simple and firm like “that’s harassment” or “don’t do that” have been known to work.

I always admire the bravery of those who clap back in this way. But responding verbally is not for everyone– if I’m being honest it’s not for me either– and it’s not the only way to respond to catcalls.


A post shared by CatcallsofKenya (@catcallsofkenya) on

CatcallsofNYC has inspired dozens of similar accounts around the world by girls also facing street harassment.

Subtly vent your anger 

Whether it’s talking to a close friend or DMing your local Catcalls group, a good way of responding to a catcall after the fact can be to tell someone what happened.

One of my favourite suggested responses: “Stop and stare them down with the fury of hell in my eyes.” This response shows the catcaller you’re angry without having to directly confront them verbally.

Document it 

Write it down. Take a picture if you feel comfortable. Harassment can evoke a sense of powerlessness. Documenting the instance is a way to take some of the power back that was taken away from you when you were catcalled.

Better yet, you can use the documentation to fuel the fight against harassment.

Share your story 

99% of people who DM us their stories thank us. Why? Because the act of sharing your story can provide relief and lift some of the weight of the original experience off your shoulders.

Whether it’s talking to a close friend or DMing your local Catcalls group, a good way of responding to a catcall after the fact can be to tell someone what happened.


A post shared by Catcalls of Lima, Peru (@catcallsofperu) on

Ignore it 

When in doubt, just ignore it. This is often the best response, especially if you’re concerned about escalating the situation. Harassers enjoy the attention, so ignoring them takes their power away.

Never feel bad ignoring street harassment. The bottom line is that you don’t owe a stranger on the street anything, including a response. Always prioritise your well-being, comfort and safety above responding.

Keep rocking 

The number one worst effect of street harassment – in my opinion – is when folks somehow feel like the harassment was their fault. Younger folks especially may blame themselves for wearing certain clothes, walking by themselves late at night, etc.

This should go without saying but, however you decide to respond, know that catcalling is NEVER YOUR FAULT.

Keep being your bad self.


This blog was originally posted on Salty.*

Chalk Back x Girls Get Equal 

For this year's 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence*, Plan International’s youth-led campaign, Girls Get Equal is teaming up with Chalk Back to host awareness-raising events in their cities. 

These events, which will be held by Safer Cities for Girls groups in Kampala, Nairobi and Delhi, aim to raise awareness of street harassment, encourage conversation around the issue and involve the public in finding solutions.

Follow @PlanInternational on instagram to be kept-up-to-date.

Support girls who are speaking out against harassment by sharing their stories and using the hashtag #StopStreetHarassment.

This is how Girls Get Equal.

*Plan International is not responsible for the content of other sites.

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