Face to face interpersonal communication can be roughly divided into three methods. These methods are visual, verbal, and physical. These methods also escalate in intensity with visual being the most indirect and physical being the most direct method.
Visual communication can be thought of as body language. Body language is a highly effective means of communicating to a large number of people with minimal effort. Many city dwellers use body language effectively as they move through crowded city spaces. Visual communication is also the most ambigious method. It is easy to ignore or mistake body language. Conversely, it is easy to pretend that your language was “unintentional”. You were not really ignoring someone, you just didn’t see him or her.
Verbal communication requires more directness. You are directly interacting with one or more people. Verbal communication takes more effort, but it is much clearer. When combined with body language, verbal communication is a highly effective method to get your point across.
Physical communication involves direct physical contact with the other person. It is usually one on one. Violence is an extreme example of physical communication. While it is possible to ignore visual and verbal communication, it is almost impossible to ignore physical communication.
As a woman moves through a city known for street harassment, she is most likely using body language as a method to communicate her unwillingness to interact with strangers. The majority of men will recognize her body language and leave her alone. But street harassers by definition are not following acceptable social rules of communication. Therefore, they choose to ignore her indirect visual communication and choose to break in with direct verbal communication.
In this instance, the woman’s indirect method has failed. Therefore, she must escalate her communication method to verbal in order to get her original point across. The easiest transition is to simply verbally state the exact same message that her body language has already been indicating. The verbal message is “Not interested!”. This statement is short for “I am not interested in interacting with you in any way, shape or form”.
It is emotionally easier to make the escalating transition to a verbal “Not interested!” than it is to make a more confrontational statement such as “Stop harassing me!”. The second statement is a switch in message. The message now becomes one of “You are bothering me. And I want you to stop bothering me!”. In order to make the delivery of her second message effective, the woman would have to stop and directly face her harasser. This action would require her to emotionally want her to interact with the harasser, when in fact, she most likely does not want to interact with her harasser.
Only in the instance where the harasser’s behavior has made her angry would she want to directly interact with the harasser. In all other circumstances, the harasser’s repulsive behavior would make her even less interested in interacting. Thus, the natural escalation of the message is the verbal statement “Not interested!”. The next step would be to use physical communication in the form of pushing the harasser away in the event he invaded her personal space.
Therefore, the “Not interested!” communication continuum is body language to verbal statement to physical push-away. These are escalating responses designed to de-escalate harassment as it occurs.
Break the cycle of deny, delay, and do nothing.
Tell them that you are "Not Interested!" and move on.