Survival First When Facing Street Harasser

Ask Demetria: You might be tempted to offer a lesson in manners, but staying safe is key.

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He looked at me blankly, rose from him seat and said, “What? You want to fight me?” And squared up.

“What? No,” I told him. “I want you to stop bothering me.”

He stood there looking at me. I stared back, wondering why his first inclination was to box. After a few seconds, I finally walked home.

That story actually has a “happy” ending. I assume that guy told everyone on the block I was crazy because no guy in my neighborhood talked to me for almost a year. (When he finally spoke again, he was — and is always — polite.) I still don’t recommend that, though. When I told my then-boyfriend what happened that night, he was livid at me for putting myself in harm’s way and convinced the man would retaliate for being embarrassed. My ex was right. I’ve been manhandled, stepped to, threatened, cursed at and spat at by harassers for much lesser “offenses.”

I agree with Eberhardt that men need to be educated on how to speak to a woman and how to better read nonverbal cues that a woman is not interested. But the block isn’t the place for a “corner summit” or a teachable moment. Even in more allegedly enlightened spaces or where dialogue about deep topics is expected, too many men just don’t, can’t or won’t get why street harassment is an issue.

There’s been lots of chatter about this subject online lately, and I’m saddened (and disgusted) by the number of men who think street harassment is something women blow out of proportion. Or worse. As one man put it, black women complaining about street harassment is a “crock of bulls–t,” a conspiracy of sorts by black feminists to take down black men. Another man told me on Twitter that single black women, given their marriage rates, should be “grateful” that men acknowledge them at all. (I blocked him.) Sigh.

Until guys en masse do better — and there are some, such as The Root contributor Jozen Cummings, who are advocating for harassing men to change — women should do whatever is necessary to avoid the real threat of harm when encountering street harassment.  

As defeatist as it sounds to say this, when you’ve encountered a guy who isn’t taking an obvious brush-off for an answer, it’s about survival. Nurse your bruised ego about having to lie about a controlling significant other until later when you’re safe again.

Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at