You can do something about street harassment

When I sold my car and started walking and using public transit, I discovered a whole new wonderful world of sexual harassment. In general, I can’t travel more than a mile without at least one incident of a guy pinching his nipples while shouting at me to “Take it off!” or the like. The worst part is that you feel absolutely powerless to do anything about it. Men who enjoy harassing women also enjoy any kind of attention whatsoever, and getting angry, yelling at them, or shaming them only makes them happier.

A couple of years ago, I kept a Google map of location, time, and description of each incident of sexual harassment, simply because so many people refused to believe me when I told them about the kind of harassment I got. Then I just got used to it – sort of, if you can call feeling fear, shame, and rage for a couple of hours “used to it.”

But now! Hollaback is raising money (via Kickstarter) for an iPhone app that will let you take a photo and post it to an online map and database. You can already post to the Stop Street Harassment Global map. Street harassment depends on anonymity – most of these guys only do it when there are not many people around, or so quietly that no one else can hear. The more men get their photos up on the Internet when they harass women, the less harassment there will be.

The way Kickstarter works is that they have to raise a certain amount of money before they get any of the money. The deadline for this fundraiser is May 28, 2010, and they currently have $5,705 out of a goal of $12,500.

I gave them $25. Yay! I can do something! If you’ve ever been harassed on the street, or know someone who has, or just think that women should be able to go out in public without fear, please donate. You can give as little as $5. I’d love to see someone donate $1000.

9 thoughts on “You can do something about street harassment

  1. Molly

    I like the idea of this in theory, but in practice, mightn’t it be dangerous to take a photo of a guy who’s already demonstrated a willingness to cross boundaries? Especially when, as you say, we’re very often talking about situations where there are fewer people around.

    Encouraging people to heighten their level of interaction with a harasser seems like something we should be thinking really carefully about before we start throwing money at it.

    1. Mary

      The Holla Back project isn’t new, just this application. They have the following on the original site (Holla Back NYC):

      Question: Confronting street harassers can be dangerous. What about safety issues?
      Answer: While everyone is vulnerable to stranger rape and sexual assault, studies show that those who are aware of their surroundings, walk with confidence and, if harassed, respond assertively, are less vulnerable. Nevertheless, direct confrontations with street harassers may prove extremely dangerous, particularly alone or in unpopulated spaces. While it is each individual’s right to decide when, how, and if to Holla Back, do keep issues of safety in mind. Upon deciding to photograph a harasser, you may consider doing so substantially after the initial encounter and from a distance, ensuring the harasser is unaware of your actions.

      (Note: if I was writing that, I’d think that it was a bit blame-y, actually. For physical and mental reasons not everyone can be or appear assertive nor can they be or appear highly aware of their surroundings.)

      I think as always with these things it is important to emphasise freedom of choice on the part of the harassed person: they aren’t obliged to Holla Back if they feel unsafe or if they just don’t want to, but if they want to, they can. Both “but you didn’t fight back” and “you didn’t protect yourself enough” are used to control women. Do you think the existence of this app alone encourages people to heighten interactions with harassers, or is it the wording/promotion?

  2. Lilac

    I nearly jumped for joy when I read this, but I’m also worried that it could be abused. Like… kids fooling around might take a picture of their friend and post it up for laughs.

  3. Azz

    One of my friends commented that this made her wish she had an iPhone. I thought about it for a bit, and figured that the primary factors were location, picture, and speed.

    I have a Palm Pixi, and I am using the Tweed Twitter client, which allows quick location grab and quick picture-taking; I have it set to upload to Twitpic. Other people may have other favorite location-and-picture services, which may or may not involve Twitter. I bookmarked the “report” page on my smartphone, and rehearsed what I would do.

    If harassed, and I feel it is safe to do so:
    Pull out phone
    Get to Tweed
    New tweet
    Location button
    Photo button
    New photo
    Snap picture
    Phone off and put away

    When I’m out of the situation, or otherwise in a place where I can reasonably finish the process, I’d then upload the picture to TwitPic, and copy the location information and picture link over to the report page, and share my story.

    Their application will likely be fewer steps, but this is something, and I’ve now rehearsed it a few times, so if I do wind up in that situation again, I’m less likely to freeze up and more likely to do something about it.

  4. lsblakk

    I’ve been familiar with the project already and I’m very curious to see what will happen. Reading this post I suddenly had a paranoid and cynical thought that dudes who’s photos get up on the site will turn it into something to be proud of. In this time of oversharing on Facebook, will having your photo posted to the internet really be the worst thing that can happen to you? And I second the idea that taking a picture of an already hostile person is risky. I wish that it was more shaming to the perpetrators.

    1. vaurora Post author

      My experience with sexual harassers is that most of them want to be anonymous when they do it. They prefer to harass you when you are alone or no one else can hear them. A really common technique is to talk just loud enough that you can hear them but no one else on the bus can understand what they are saying. Certainly, there are exceptions – the homeless guy with vomit on his coat doesn’t care what other people think – but most harassers try to keep it just between you and them. That’s part of their power – and you take it away when you make their actions public.

  5. Katie

    I think all the concerns are important ones, but otoh, I like this just because it creates a community of people who all say, “harassment is not OK, and it’s reasonable to be angry or depressed because of it”. So a person who is harassed could take a photo (if they wanted to) and then plug into this community that shares their feelings of rage and hurt, instead of just sucking it up and getting on with their day. I agree there are lots of ways it could go wrong though.

    Maybe it could have an educational role, in raising awareness of street harassment, especially among men – I sometimes get the feeling my male friends don’t really believe harassment happens, or think it’s rare, so having a map of their town with a hundred arrows on it pointing to places where women were harassed could be educational.

  6. Dr. Psycho

    Wide distribution of privately-owned cameras and video recorders is a major step forward in the empowerment of individuals.

    Big Brother can go right on watching — Little Sister is watching right back.

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