I just stood there and watched. What should you do in case of street harassment?

What can you do if you are the victim or a witness of unwanted sexual behaviour? TU Delft students get practical tips on handling intimidation in a workshop.


During your workout in the fitness hall at X, you see that a female student is being inappropriately touched by a male visitor. What would you do?

A male passenger continuously seeks physical contact in a crowded bus. He makes sexual remarks and you feel uncomfortable. How would you respond?

No idea? That is very normal, learnt TU Delft students on Monday 20 September at an online workshop called ‘bystander intervention’ (part of the #Let’sTalkAboutYes action week). Most people, 86%, do not know what to do in cases of street harassment and 87% consider it too risky to intervene, say trainers Sandra Ramzy and Daniela Torres.

  • Street harassment can be unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical approaches in the public space.

In an interactive session, the 20 or more interested attendees – both men and women – learn what you can do as a bystander or victim.

‘Doing something is better than doing nothing

Ramzy and Torres open the session with a confrontational request. They ask the participants to share their experiences with unwanted sexual behaviour, anonymously. The results are sad. They tell about people who stood unnecessarily close, were called out to or even touched.

These kind of experiences have a major impact. “And often much bigger than people think,” says Torres. “Victims suffer anxiety, depression or do not dare go to school or work anymore.”

The effects can be dramatic, but yet it does not stop many people from looking away if they see situations on the street. They are afraid of becoming a victim too or of making the situation worse. Yet doing something is better than doing nothing, explains Ramzy. “Research shows that even recognising a victim’s trauma can help ease it significantly.”

But how should you deal with street harassment safely? Use the ‘5 Ds’. Ramzy shows the participants the options – the ‘superpowers’ – they have in these situations.

  • Distract
    Create a subtle diversion to distract the perpetrator and take away the attention from what is happening. Ask for directions or the time, for example, or drop something ‘by accident’.
  • Delegate
    Tell someone close by what is happening and ask if they can do anything. This can be a bystander or someone with authority such as a bus driver, security guard or barman. Unless the situation is very threatening, calling the police is not immediately preferable. You leave that choice to the victim.
  • Document
    It can be useful to document the incident. Write it down or put it in a note in your telephone. Note: in the Netherlands it is illegal to share images of people so that they are recognisable.  You may, of course, share the images with the police.
  • Delay
    Seek contact with the victim. Say that what happened was not good, and that is definitely was not his/her fault. Offer the support that the person needs. A little empathy really helps.
  • Direct
    Address the perpetrator directly. Make it clear that his/her behaviour is unacceptable. Do not enter into discussion but ask him/her to leave the victim alone. You can also address the victim directly. Ask if everything is ok, for example.

Watch the video below for some examples of the 5 D technique: 

No one perfect reaction
What if you yourself are the victim of street harassment and there is no one to help you? In these cases too there are techniques that you can use. “But remember that there is no one perfect reaction,” emphasises Torres. “It is not your responsibility to have the perfect answer, it is the responsibility of the perpetrator not to bother you. Trust your instincts and listen to what your feelings tell you. You decide if you will react and how. Tell the person who is harassing you to stop (direct), involve bystanders (delay) or document the situation (document).”

The participants go through different scenarios and explain their answers in the chat. What would you do for example if you are at a party and are harassed by a group of young people? One chooses to loudly and clearly tell them to leave her alone, another would phone or app a friend and ask for help.

The last question at the end of the session was if you are the witness of street harassment, would you know what to do? The question is answered by a resounding “yes!”.

  • Click here for more information about the #Let’sTalkAboutYes action week.
  • Do you want to know more about what you can do if you are a victim or witness of street harassment? Take free online training.


Illustrations vector created by freepik –

News editor Marjolein van der Veldt

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