I take the bus a lot. (I don't own a car, it's not feasible for me to do so). Mostly, I sit in my seat and I read or I check my phone, people tend to leave me to do my thing.

However, in the past few weeks, I've had to deal with a few people (male - I look generally female/feminine) who think that the fact we are on the same bus is enough for them to chat me up. Normally, me not paying attention or engaging is enough, or a polite "I'm married" shuts them up. However, I've run into a couple cases where that's not been enough - they continue to invade my space, try to flirt, etc. I've tried just getting up and moving to another seat, but sometimes, even that doesn't work. I've had a couple cases now where the person is on the outside, so they need to move for me to move. I've asked them to let me up, and if I don't lie and say I'm getting off the bus, they refuse to let me move.

If I do lie and say I am getting off the bus, once they notice I'm not actually getting off the bus, they keep trying. It's not really enough to be considered harassment in the sense I'd get the driver involved, but it's enough to make me feel super uncomfortable.

What sort of responses can I give to them to make it very clear I'm not interested, without sacrificing more info about myself (real or imagined)?

  • Does your transit system have a policy about harassment?
    – sphennings
    May 3, 2018 at 0:25
  • @sphennings it does, but in my experience it's not super well enforced if it isn't something super blatant, egregious, or a physical altercation.
    – user75
    May 3, 2018 at 0:27
  • What is the nature of the unwanted conversation? May 3, 2018 at 1:19

3 Answers 3


The thing is, the type of people who ignore clear signals are not interested in playing by the rules. It's a power move: they're leveraging your uncomfortableness and reluctance to cause conflict in order to get what they want. Remaining polite and quietly ignoring them doesn't work because it signals to them, "You won't suffer any consequences because I would rather not cause a fuss."

(I absolutely don't mean this as victim-blaming - I too am very conflict-averse and like to think that everyone will follow the rules of polite society. Most of the time they do. But some people take advantage of that, like these men on the bus, and it's an important skill to recognize when the usual tactics don't apply.)

Giving short answers, ignoring them, and trying to leave are all good tactics. But if they fail, it's time to take it up a notch.

  • Raise your voice and repeat yourself. Tell him loudly and firmly to leave you alone, and say it again every time he tries. Make it a public embarrassment for him to act that way - as it should be!

  • Make eye contact with other passengers. They are probably all on your side but are trying to pretend it isn't happening so they don't have to do anything about it. Eye contact makes it harder for them to ignore the situation, which raises the possibility of someone intervening on your behalf.

  • Don't be afraid to ask for help! If there's a male passenger nearby, consider asking them to swap seats with you. (I'm specifying male because I assume your harasser would not start targeting them instead, use your judgment here.) Getting other people on your side shows the harasser that his behavior is not OK and there will be social consequences.

  • Take a photo. Be obvious about it. You can even tell him that you're taking it to send to the authorities or your husband or lawyer, or whatever. This will almost certainly make him uncomfortable, and may intimidate him into leaving you alone once he realizes that he could face consequences to his behavior. (IANAL, but based on my searches this is legal in Canada.)

There's also some "off-the-wall" options that I've heard other women successfully use to make themselves appear less desirable.. probably not what you're looking for and I think take a certain personality to pull off, but maybe they'll be inspiring ;)

  • Engaging in conversation and pretending to be crazy, like being extremely enthusiastic about their inappropriate propositions ("OMG a man is interested in me, I gotta call my mom, what shall we name our children?!")

  • Telling the harasser they have some horrible, contagious disease

  • Straight up screeching or bursting into tears - something so unexpected and uncomfortable to witness that the harasser didn't know how to respond and left them alone.

Worst-case: if you feel unsafe, do not hesitate to notify the driver! You could also consider actually getting off the bus at the next stop and just waiting for the next one, for the ones that don't let you out of the seat. I'm not sure how practical that would be, but the delay could be worth it if you feel that uncomfortable.

  • 2
    In addition to the first part, if they touch you, tell them loudly to not to touch you. To improve the chances to be left alone, one can practice this responses at home.
    – Purrrple
    May 3, 2018 at 18:12

It seems you are running into a person here who loves to have power over women. A despicable person. How to handle it?

You need to show them that they have no power over you. Lying that you need to leave the bus doesn't help, they obviously see you are not leaving, so that gives them power. They are likely stronger, but cannot use force in a bus full of people. So you can just ask them very loudly so that everyone in the bus hears it to leave you alone. What will help is taking a few photos of the person, so they know they can be found if they try anything nasty. Hitting them with your handbag or umbrella will help.

(Usually you want to be nice and not offend people - this is exactly the opposite. You want to get rid of the person. )

  • 11
    I would advise against being the first to use physical force in a so far non-violent encounter. However "right" you might be about it, it will make it more likely for you to be seen as the problem when it attracts attention.
    – skymningen
    May 3, 2018 at 8:00
  • 1
    You may not hit someone who annoys you. Also at least in Germany, you are not allowed to take pictures of others without their consent. May 3, 2018 at 8:47
  • 2
    @QEDemonstrandum Good thing this question takes place in Canada, then. A quick search turned up this article explaining it is legal to take photos of someone on public transit.
    – Em C
    May 3, 2018 at 13:21

Do realize that there is only so much you can do to send clear signals to the other party. At this point, I think you have been very clear already and the issue lays not with the communication, but rather with the other person being not a very functional piece of society. They don't see the situation in the same light as you, and as there is little to no chance of anything bad/ negative happening for them, they see it only as a 'little fun' probably.

Clearly, their behaviour is not okay, and you should not be okay with it. However, if all they do is talk, then what you should do is simply ignore them. When they initiate conversation and start to flirt with you (rather than have a normal friendly talk about the weather) shut them down swiftly and direct. Something like 'I am married and have no need for any form of flirtation, thank you.'

Do it loud enough that nearby people can notice. Then ignore the man. Even if they keep talking, whatever they say. No matter how much it stings or annoys you, ignore them. They will look like the fool. Put on headphones if it helps, focus on your book or phone and ignore them.

If they start to do more than just talking, eg should they start touching you. Slap their hand away and yell at them to stop that immediately. If they do it again, get up and leave. If they try to stop you... well. This is not going to be the best advice, but my mother is a tough woman. She would either knee him or punch/ kick him in the sack. I share this sentiment. But this might get you in trouble though. You could try to ask others for help, but I have noticed that often other people will rather watch and expect somebody else to stand up and help.

In any case, if you ignore them, most will get tired of playing their 'game' and stop or focus on somebody else.

  • 1
    This is pretty much what I do, as explained in the question. But it does not work, and it makes me incredibly uncomfortable to have to put up with it.
    – user75
    May 3, 2018 at 15:19
  • The only options you have left then are either escalation, with whatever consequences that might have, or talking to the bus driver. There is no way with words to stop people like this.
    – Robin
    May 4, 2018 at 6:01

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