Over Half Of Montrealers May Experience Street Harassment & Bystanders Rarely Help, A Study Finds

Most reported incidents take place during the day.

MTL Blog, Staff Writer
People walk on the street in Old Montreal.

People walk on the street in Old Montreal.

A new study on Montreal street harassment finds the problem is far more widespread than previously known and that little is being done to stop it. A survey conducted by UQAM researchers discovered that a majority of victims are 18 to 24 years old (82%) and targeted mostly by adult men (70%). They also found that witnesses — friends and strangers alike — rarely step in to help and that few incidents are reported.

Marginalized groups are the most at risk for harassment, which spans lewd gestures, whistles, shouts, or comments of a violent or sexual nature — and other insistent, unwanted public attention from strangers.

Trans and non-binary people were the most likely to experience street harassment (84%), followed by cisgender women (69%). At least three in four people who identified as Arab, Asian, Black, Latinx or First Nations had experienced harassment (77%), compared to just over half of white respondents (62%). Non-heterosexual people were also highly targeted (75%), compared to heterosexuals (64%).

Among cisgender men, racialized individuals were most often subject to verbal abuse, especially those who are Indigenous (70%), queer (68%) or wear visible religious garbs, like a yarmulke or a turban (74%).

Most reported incidents took place in broad daylight, between noon and 4 p.m. (57%) or before midnight (59%). Sidewalks, parking lots and parks saw the highest rates of harassment (66%). Bars, restaurants and shopping centres saw the second highest rate (50%), followed by public transit (39%) and outdoor events (19%).

Researchers surveyed over three thousand Montrealers (by phone and online) between October and November of 2021. They found well over half of respondents (65%) had experienced street harassment.

In the majority of reported incidents (53%), no help was offered by friends or strangers who witnessed the harassment firsthand. Less than one in ten incidents were reported to the police with many respondents saying they didn't believe they would be taken seriously and didn't expect any effort on their part would hold assailants to account.

Mayor Valerie Plante weighed in on the results of the city-sponsored study, calling for action.

"Street harassment is a reality that has been trivialized for too long. It had to be properly documented to allow everyone to take the necessary actions to combat it," she tweeted.

If you require resources or assistance surrounding sexual assault in Quebec, the CAVAC helpline is available 24/7. Those who may need support can call 1-866-532-2822. Other crisis lines and 24/7 options can be found at The Lifeline Canada.

This article's cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.

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