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Don't Just Put Up with Street Harassment - Hollaback!

By May 19, 2010

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If you're a woman living in an urban area, chances are you've been the victim of street harassment. It may take the form of verbal assault like catcalls or physical harassment such as groping; frequently the predator exposes himself or masturbates in front of you.

Typically women have learned to ignore these behaviors, since a reaction or response is what the perpetrator wants. But why should we put up with it? What did we do to provoke these sexual offenders? Is being female and walking down the street or riding the subway "asking for it"?

Emily May decided that no woman should have to endure this type of sexual assault. So in 2005 she co-founded Hollaback, a movement dedicated to ending street harassment using mobile technology. Hollaback began with the blog HollabackNYC.com where women submit stories of their experiences -- along with photos of the perpetrators taken with cell phone cameras -- for all the world to view. (One example is at the end of this post.)

As May describes it, the simple yet effective idea evolved out of a conversation with friends over drinks one night:

[We] commiserated over being whistled at, cat-called, and propositioned....The trouble was that we felt there was nothing we could do. If we walked on, we felt victimized. If we yelled, we felt angry....and street harassment was more or less protected under laws of free speech. Then we realized - why not take pictures of these street harassers and post them on a blog? And so, with the clink of our cocktail glasses, we launched HollabackNYC...

The confluence of street harassment, technology and cell phone cameras made great news, and we were featured on...Current TV, ABC, Fox....[and] covered by local papers too....The Internet gave us access to a worldwide community, and cracked open a conversation about street harassment...

We received letters from men who had no idea that their wives and daughters were the subjects of street harassment....[T]hey started concerned conversations with family members and learned how close the topic came. We received stories that were over 30 years old from women who wished they'd had HollabackNYC at that time....[W]e heard from young girls - some only 12 or 13 - who told us of their first experiences with street harassment. HollabackNYC gave a voice to their experiences.

In the five years since its founding, HollabackNYC has inspired women around the globe to launch affiliate Hollaback sites including Hollaback Chicago, DC, Savannah, Toronto, Australia and UK.

May and Hollaback are in the midst of launching a new website and developing an iPhone app to make identifying street harassers and sharing stories even easier. They'll be able to track street harassment through data points to quantify and communicate its impact to legislators.

After a beta launch of the new system in NYC, Hollaback will expand to other cities starting this September. Eventually Hollaback's new technology will go global through groups who've expressed interest in partnerships involving existing anti-harassment movements in London, India, and Egypt.

Like all organizations raising money in these tough economic times, they're facing challenges; and the biggest one is that they have 9 days (until May 28) to raise $7500 to be eligible for additional funding. They're seeking donations to make Hollaback even more effective so they can put an end to street harassment.

Perhaps you don't live in an urban area and think this issue isn't important. The following true story -- taken from the HollabackNYC.com blog -- may change your mind:

First time to deal with a train masturbator. This guy was on the 6 Local from 42nd street heading downtown. He was jerking off through his jeans, but the gross part was that he wasn't doing it to me, but to the little girl across from him! She must have been 6 yrs old. They got off at the same stop as me and he looked up at me as I was exiting. I politely and discretely gave him the finger. He looked away real fast.

I only wish I was brave enough to have gotten a better picture.

Submitted by T.


May 19, 2010 at 5:28 pm
(1) AnnaM says:

I guess its a product of growing up in a rural area but it amazes me that guys do this kind of stuff and get away with it. Something like that where I grew up would get them hit with the nearest closest object at the very least. Too bad folks in cities would get in trouble for physical retaliation but I’d love to see predators like this get paintballed any time they dared act like such idiots.

May 26, 2010 at 10:08 am
(2) Carol Butler says:

When women attain the status of “human beings” this S*** will stop! Our society is so UN-civilized!

May 26, 2010 at 11:42 am
(3) SLB says:

Dad or Mom, please collect your 6yr old and move to a different seat on the subway. Snap a pic of the jerk-off right in his face, on your way past him.

Fabulous idea to use mobile technology as a way of fighting back. I’m going to pass this one on to my students and my own daughter (when she’s old enough to use mobile technology).

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