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My name is Emily May, and I am the executive director of Hollaback!, an organization that has been working to end street harassment since 2005. I want to thank Councilmember Julissa Ferreras and the entire Committee on Women’s Issues for coordinating this hearing. While street harassment has probably existed in our city since the advent of streets, this is the first ever hearing to specifically address this pervasive issue. It’s a historic occasion, thank you.
Hollaback! is an international movement to end street harassment that started right here in New York City. It began because myself and a few friends were getting street harassed three or four times daily. When we walked on, we felt weak. When we yelled at the guys, the situation escalated, and the police didn’t care. The most common suggestion for dealing with it was to plug our heads with earphones and pretend it wasn’t happening. But something inside us told us this wasn’t enough—we wanted to share our stories, and to get our fellow New Yorker’s to share theirs. Five years later, over 1000 bold women and LGBTQ New Yorkers have told their stories of street harassment. Their stories have inspired Hollaback!s to launch in an additional 20 cities worldwide including London, Israel, Berlin, and Buenos Aires. Within the next couple of weeks we will launch an iPhone and a Droid app, making it even easier to Hollaback! and giving the public the real-time data on this pervasive problem.
At Hollaback!, we’ve heard stories of women leaving their jobs, or breaking their lease, because their commute involved too much street harassment. We’ve heard stories from girls skipping school to avoid harassment. And we’ve heard a surprising number of stories from women who moved out of New York City because they just couldn’t take it anymore. These stories come from women and girls in all five boroughs, and represent every ethnicity, from the ages of 10 to 75.
Too commonly, street harassment is believed to be the “price women pay” for living in New York City. But we’re not buying it. Taxes are the price we pay for living in this city, not street harassment.
Just this week I had the opportunity to speak with young women at Barnard and the Little Red School House. Of these 150 young women, 100% of them had experienced street harassment according to our anonymous survey tool. As frustrated as each of them was about street harassment, they were inspired to hear that the New York City Council was listening. Many of them are submitting testimony today.
We have heard from New York City’s women and girls. We know this is a problem. But who we haven’t heard from is our legislators. Until now.
We have an historic opportunity to do something about this. Street harassment is poised to be the next big women’s issue of this decade, in the same way that workplace harassment was in the 1980s. It is a gateway crime, creating a culture in our city that makes other forms of violence against women OK. And the New York City council is well placed to lead the charge, just like they have with so many battles that have come before it.
I know what you’re thinking – that this is issue is going to be tough to legislate. We could choose to ignore it—after all, this is what we have done for a very long time. But I propose an alternative–we could choose to work together and take action—and for it to work, we need to move quickly.
Our ten-year plan is to build a world where all the baby girls in strollers today will never have to experience street harassment the way that girls today have. Today, on this most historic occasion, I’d like to invite you to join us.
Here are three initial first steps:
1. We need a citywide study on the impact of street harassment on women and girls, including recommendations for next steps;
2. We need a citywide public information campaign that teaches women, girls, men, and boys that street harassment is not OK; and
3. We need to establish harassment-free zones around our schools, similar to the drug-free zones that exist today.
New York City’s women and girls deserve the freedom to walk down the streets of New York safely and confidently, without being the object of some creep’s fantasy. And you have the power to change that. You have the power to rewrite history for New York City’s tiniest.
So let’s do it. Let’s make today the day that New York City boldly decided to end street harassment. The women and girls of New York City are counting on us.
Male Students in the hallways at this school are constantly yelling “suck my dick!” at females. They even use the same vile language to female teachers in the classroom. New York City DOE Administrators allow them to get away with it. It is disgusting. How will these male students be acting when they are in the workforce? What message are we sending girls about how they can be expected to be spoken to at work when the graduate?
Submitted by Marie
Earlier tonight (around 7:30/8), walking down 33rd after running some errands. Dressed in work attire (for me, a shapeless pair of tan pants, white shirt, and cardigan) and carrying bags.
Two men in a work-type van pull over to the side of the street a little ahead of me, and motion me to come over. I’m about to ignore them, but one says “Directions?” and I figure that since they look like they’re from out of town (Connecticut plates) and they’re in a WORK van, they must be really lost.
“Can you give me directions to (mumble mumble)?”
“What?” (and I move a little closer, to see if I can hear better)
“Can you give me directions to Pussy Avenue?”
At this point I kind of stared at them in shock, and the passenger unlocks his door and moves like he’s getting out, so I turn around and book it in the opposite direction (it’s a one way, so they couldn’t drive towards me).
I was so angry at myself for not saying anything. This is why I’m so rude to strangers in this city…99% of the time, a man talking to you on the street is actually a creep.
Submitted by Liz
One day while I was running errands I came across a group of men who were hanging out in front of a barber shop. All I heard was “drug store, blondie” and they followed me for five blocks harassing and stalking me until I lead them the wrong way. After that experience I don’t go often near that block.
Submitted by Samantha
I wish I found this website sooner because I would have done something to stop the d*chebag that sat across from me on the bus. (Just for reference, we both had two seats to ourselves.) At first, upon boarding the bus, he didn’t seem threatening even though he glanced at me.
But boy, was I wrong.
For about 3 hours, I had to endure this nasty, nasty man (who had appeared relatively normal-looking) masturbating to himself. I was FURIOUS. Absolutely furious. What made it worse was the fact that he made it SEEM like he was SLEEPING the entire time. Ugh. And this is the first time this has EVER happened to me on a bus. And I’m a frequent traveler to Boston; I’ve been doing this for five years!
Now that I think about it, I should have taken a photo of the creep. I should have yelled at him when we stopped at the rest stop. I should have at least done something.
But because of this website, I now know that I have the power to make a change. No matter how small it may be.
Submitted by Leslie
I was followed from the subway this afternoon. A man walked about 10 feet behind me, chanting in a sing-song voice, “helloo sexy legs! hey, cutie! hellooo, sexy legs, sexy legs.” I was wearing a knee-length skirt and flats. Yes, I have legs, I am a human who walks upright. He followed me for about a block, chanting the whole time, non-stop. I got my phone ready to take a picture in case he caught up to me and started something else, but after a few minutes I didn’t hear him anymore. I snapped this pic backwards over my shoulder to see if he was still there.
Submitted by Anne Marie
Well dressed young man, for no apparent reason assaulted me as I was leaving the subway train this a.m. shortly after telling me “you aren’t in Oklahoma anymore.” He had given me the finger while I was on the train, and I had asked him why, he never answered. I was peaceful, and didn’t leave after the gesture, because the train was crowded. When we got to my stop (Fulton street/ Broadway Nassau on the A train)I gestured for him to go in front of me, he refused, and then I walked in front of him to exit the train, at which point he shoved me. I still do not understand the reason for the attack, but it may have been racially motivated.
Submitted by Guelda
The room was standing room only, the testimonies brought us to tears, and the press was swarming. You made this happen, and this is only the beginning.
The story was picked up by 237 outlets worldwide. Why is this important? That’s millions of women, men, boys, and girls that now know that they are not the only ones frustrated by street harassment. That there are allies out there in the world that have got their backs. They are no longer alone. It helped to legitimize this issue, and ultimately, it will help us to put the pressure on legislators to make these changes happen. In short, it’s a testament to your impact.
Check it out:
The AP wire wrote this story, which was picked up by 200+ outlets nationwide, including MSNBC and the Washington Post!
We also got this great piece on Fox:
The New York Post did a story, too:
And this great piece on CBS, Channel 2! The first woman to speak, Grace, is a 16-year old from Elizabeth Irwin High School. She’s an absolute inspiration, and her testimony brought me to tears. Check it out here.
Additional press hits included:
Gothamist, Street Harassment Finally Gets City Council’s Attention
Gawker, Should New York Have ‘Harassment-Free’ Zones?
AMNY, Lawmakers review street harassment in NYC
TampaBay.com, The skinny: Women hit back against street harassment
Daily News, City Council hears plea to curb catcalls; women say it’s an ‘issue of safety’
Congratulations on all your hard work, and a special shout-out to advocates including Girls for Gender Equity, NOW-NYC, RightRides, Center for Anti-Violence Education, NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault, New Yorkers for Safe Transit, Elizabeth Mendez Berry, Holly Kearl from Stop Street Harassment.
Also thanks to the most amazing special guest ever, the Astronomical Kid. If you haven’t seen his video “Stop Looking at My Moms,” get on it. It’s amazing. An anthem for our movement. Not surprisingly, this young man is just as rad as his song. He hurried from school to testify.
You showed the world that street harassment mattered, and you showed New York City that it could be ended. CONGRATULATIONS!
We are partnering with a group called METRAC to do a survey on street harassment. They are hoping to use the results to build an iPhone app in their hometown of Toronto, Canada.
Help them out by taking the survey! We’ll share the results with you in December.
Hello, my name is Grace. I live in Brooklyn and am in 11th grade in high school. Thank you so much for holding this hearing today to listen to the stories and issues faced by so many New York girls and women every day.
I cannot remember the last time I walked out of my house and returned home that night without being sexually harassed at some point during the say. Be it the slimy grin and the threatening eyes, or the erection digging into my back in a sardine-like packed train.
The subway is where I experience it the worst. My phone does not work on the subway. I cannot quickly move away or off the train. I am completely alone. But this should not have to mean that I am completely vulnerable.
The moment which I have felt most degraded, belittled, and humiliated was at 6pm on a Saturday getting onto the 1 train at Chambers heading Uptown. I got on and noticed everyone on one side of the train. I didn’t think too much about it and sat down on the two-seated bench furthest away from everyone. The doors closed and the train moved away from the station.
I suddenly noticed a man sitting across from me I hadn’ t seen before. He was white, old, and wearing a big tan jacket and a baseball cap. He had a friendly face.
His eyes flashed up to meet mine and I quickly dropped my gaze into my lap. I didn’t want to make eye contact with him, just like with any stranger; I was worried he would misinterpret the eye contact. But it is ridiculous, really, that I feel I cannot look a stranger in the eye because it would give them reason to think I may be provoking or leading them on in some way. Has it really gotten to the point where I have to watch and reserve every move I make to ensure he doesn’t make any of his own?
He shuffled his hands in his pockets.
The train stopped at Franklin Street.
No one got on.
The train doors closed and started on again.
He was fidgeting again, from what I could see from the corner of my eye.
I glanced up at him, against my better judgment.
The hands I thought were in his pockets were not. They were under the big sides of his tan coat.
I can’ t even remember what I felt at that moment. It was such a rush of so many emotions; it all washed over me and made me feel smaller than ever.
“ Don’ t look at his eyes,” I told myself, trying to keep calm, telling myself this wasn’t really happening. How could someone possibly comprehend doing this? I tried to concentrate on my hands. They were turning ghostly blue as I squeezed them so tightly for any sense of comfort or release of pain, whichever one it was. I did look up, only to realize the one thing I wished above all was not true. He was staring right back at me.
I guess I must have been angry. I don’ t think I could feel it though. My fear and shock overpowered everything else such as the shame and embarrassment. The vulnerability and victimization. The fact that I was frozen. Unable to say a thing. Unable to move. Unable to fully comprehend or at least not letting myself. The train stopped at Franklin.
“ Why me? Why now? What do I do?!” I screamed at myself inside. I thought I was going to explode. I knew that I should move or say something, anything.
The doors opened to the platform.
I wanted to get off then. I wanted to run off the train so badly. I wanted to scream at that man, who was so sick in the mind and inconsiderate, I just wanted to hurt him. I wanted to yell at the other people on the train, all huddled on the other side. They knew something was wrong, I could read right through their poker faces. I was in despair, and they did nothing. They didn’t even glance in my direction. I was in an incomprehensible state.
I stared longingly at the platform. My eyes fixated, yearning to drag my body out of this nightmare, off the train, or even onto the next car. But I was stuck. Crushed.
I did not move. I did not say a thing.
The doors closed and the train moved away from the platform again. I stared down at my hands, concentrating on their wrinkles and creases.
I blame myself for the event. I could have moved to the other side of the train. I could have yelled at the creepy man. I could have gotten off at Franklin or Canal. I could have asked for help. But in the moment, I just could not do it. I ignored the masturbation five feet in front of me and suppressed my feelings. I clenched my jaw and carried on, just the way all girls and women seem to react to the harassment they face every day.
I got off at Houston, as quick as possible. I was relieved to even be that far away from the stranger. But at the same time the relief settled in, a wave of anger and regret panged inside my chest. I almost instantly wished I could have gone back on the train and had the courage and power to stand up to the stranger and let him know, in any way possible that he was sick, that what he did was messed up, that I shouldn’t be blaming myself for it. That he was in the wrong and should be punished. It’ s basic morals, taught from when you’re a kid. He had no right. Yet he got away with it.
I walked up to the street that day and continued on. I did not think to mention it to anyone because it didn’t seem to matter. Who would care? And if they did care, what could they possibly do about it now? I cannot tell you how many times I have wished I could go back in time and done something.
I did not know what I would do for a while. But once Hollaback came to visit my class, I knew there was something I would do. I did not know that what happened to me was not unusual. That men frequently masturbated openly to girls and women on the subway. I was one of many cases. I did not experience anything out of the ordinary life of a girl living in New York City.
But how messed up does that sound? How morally contorted are we that young girls are normally subject to such degrading public embarrassment? How messed up is this system that if I hadn’t heard about the Hollaback organization, that if I hadn’ t heard about this hearing, I would still be burying these feelings inside, internalizing my pain and blaming myself for all the wrong that strange men have done to me.
I was not wearing anything that day to provoke him, just jeans and a T-shirt. But that should not have to matter. As my right, I should be able to wear what I want without having to worry about men taking advantage of me. I shouldn’t have to leave social outings early just because it’ s past 9:30 PM and it’ s considered too “ late” for a girl to be taking a long train ride by herself. I should not have to worry about the man at the Chambers Street station who every morning compliments me with a sexual subtext in his words.
Once, I was walking once just behind the playground of my school courtyard. I was not 3 feet away from the school premises when from behind, a man came up and pressed his body against mine. I could feel the heat off his skin, I could smell his hot stale breath as he blew my hair. “ NICE ASS,” he yelled in a loud, rude, and hostile voice. It was like he was putting me in my place, hammering me down, and reminding me of his authority and control over me. I felt helpless, a feeling I knew was exactly his goal, consciously or not.
I want other girls to know about organizations such as Hollaback. I want girls to know how to handle the terrible situations they encounter on the subway. I want people on the trains to help when they see something happening. I want to be able to ride the subways without having to be so constantly alert and cautious. I want to be able to wear what I want without it being an instigator for harassment. I want to be able to live in this city without having to feel below or undermined simply because I’m a girl.
I thank you for hearing me out. I thank you for listening to my stories that I have shoved to the back of my mind for so long, keeping them bottled up and disregarding them.
Please remember, that the experiences I shared are not unusual. They happen on a daily basis. I do not know one girl or woman in my life that has not experienced some form of sexual harassment in their life. I’m sure that this is true for almost every female you all know too. It is happening every day here in our city. I am only 16, and already I cannot remember half the traumatic experiences I have experienced due to male harassment. Thank you for listening, and please remember how great a help you all can be.