What can I do if I’m harassed on the street or public transit?

Everyone deserves to feel safe in public. With the increase of harassment and disruptive behaviours on the streets and public transit system, it's important to know what you can do to defend yourself.

What is public harassment?

Public (or street) harassment can take on many forms. It can be someone:

  • Standing too close to you and/or insisting on conversation you don’t want to have.
  • Leering (prolonged staring in a malicious or threatening way) at you, making vulgar gestures, exposing themselves sexually to you (public masturbation)
  • Mocking your clothing and threatening or trying to remove it (example: hijab, yarmulke, turban, or any other articles of clothing)
  • Telling you that you don’t have the right to be in a particular public space
  • Making racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, sexually explicit, and other derogatory comments 
  • Making unwelcome comments about your appearance, accent, sexuality, etc.
  • Whistling, barking, or making kissing noises
  • Following you or sitting next to you and blocking your path
  • Sexually touching or grabbing you

According to Right To Be, a global, people-powered organization that aims to end harassment in public spaces, they recommend to always listen to and trust your instincts. If a situation feels off, it could be the beginning of something dangerous about to happen.

Steps to Stay Safe in Public

Look around you to ensure the place is well lit and that there is an exit nearby should you need to escape a bad situation. If someone is bothering you, you can:

  1. Reclaim your space- If there are people around and you feel safe speaking up, set a boundary by telling the harasser to stop what they’re doing and to move away from you. Make direct eye contact when addressing them and use a firm tone of voice and tell them explicitly what you don’t like they’re doing. For example you can say: “Don’t talk to me like this again. I don’t appreciate how you are insulting me. Step away from me!” Don’t engage further in conversation or verbal attacks. Sometimes perpetrators just want to instigate a confrontation.
  2. Move away - If you are sitting alone, find another person or group of people and stand/sit near them instead. Explain to them what happened, and ask them if you can stand/sit with them until you reach your destination. If they’re blocking you, repeat what you said in the previous step in a louder voice so that others around you can hear what is happening. If you and the harasser are the only ones on the bus or transit car, sit near the driver or move train cars to be close to other people and transit staff.
  3. Ask for help - Tell people around you what you just experienced if they didn’t see it, and describe what the perpetrator looks like. Ask if you can stand by them until you call for help or ask someone to alert the bus/transit driver or authorities.
  4. Record it- If you feel safe try to record it. Either take a picture of the offender or ask people around you to record what is happening.

The impacts of harassment can be profound, and sometimes traumatizing. It can lead you to make significant changes in your life and cause long-lasting impacts.

Staying Safe on the TTC 

If you're riding alone by bus between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. and feel vulnerable you can request to be dropped off between regular TTC stops under as part of the Request Stop TTC Program. Make the request to the bus driver at least one stop ahead of the desired stop so that the bus can stop safely. Other things you can do to stay safe are:

  • Keep the volume down on your music and avoid phone distractions especially when you're alone so you can hear and see what is happening around you.
  • Look for places to get help along your route like open stores and restaurants.
  • If someone falls on the tracks or is caught between the door of a moving subway car and the platform, you can power to the track using the nearest emergency power cut cabinet, located at each end of the platform.
  • If you are in physical danger, pull the yellow emergency bar located in different areas of the TTC trains, buses or streetcars. TTC Transit Control Authorities and 911 will be notified. 
  • Download the free SafeTTC mobile App to report incidents that occur on the TTC. The App allows you to either discretely “Report an Incident” directly to TTC’s Transit Control Centre or “Call Police,” which connects you directly with 911 for emergencies. With the click of a few screens, you can submit a photo of the offender or incident, specific location details, and a description of what happened.

The SafeTTC App is available through your Android or iOS App store.

Staying Safe on Go Transit

If you need to report and incident on go transit you can now use the Text-For-Help Service to communicate with a Customer Protective Services (CPS) team member directly across the Go Transit network and stations. 

  • Text “”HELP” to 77777, to communicate in real-time with a CPS dispatcher to report or request assistance in the event of an emergency or safety concern. This new option allows you to get help quickly and discreetly from anywhere within their network — on a bus, train, station building, or platform.
  • Once a text is received, you will receive an automatic response.
  • The CPS team will reply to you within 90 seconds to understand the concern, and if needed, they can assist by dispatching support or local police services.

The Text-For-Help Service is 24 hours a day, seven days a week and for text-only (SMS) messages (messages without pictures or videos

Alternativelly, you can continue to use the yellow emergency strip when police, fire for emergencies only. But call 911 in life threatening emergencies or to report a crime.

For More Information

  • Take Action - Ways to stop street and public harassment. From Right to Be
  • Standup Against Street Harassment - Videos and resources on how to stop street harassment from Stand Up International. 
  • HeartMob - Resources for when you experience online harassment by Right to Be 
  • Sexual Assault Help Lines to call: Women’s College Hospital Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre,416-323-6040, Scarborough Grace Sexual Assault Care Centre 416-495-2555, Assaulted Women’s Helpline 866-863-0511 
Last updated: February 1, 2023 4006504