Nicola's Got Nerve

Nicola’s Got Nerve: Is Safety Really Coming for Egypt’s Women?

This post, by Nicola Briggs, is part of a series of posts that we call Nicola’s Got Nerve. You may remember Nicola from this incident caught on camera which was viewed by more than 1.5 million people and which sparked outrage from all corners of the globe, bringing street harassment to the forefront of women’s rights issues. We admire’s Nicola’s ability to turn a traumatic event into focused action through writing and activism, and we think you will too.

Egypt, a country in which street harassment of urban women is now so frequent as to become almost normal, seems to finally be making a commitment to stamping it out. Published in Ahram Online, the article which headlined plans for this new policy had a disturbing photo of three young men chasing after a woman crossing the street, one of them clearly grabbing her backside. The look of distress on her face is obvious, as she extends a hand behind her to try and remove his, which has already made intimate contact with her body. I personally shuddered when I saw this, as any woman who’s experienced this would do. The look of glee on their faces and their obvious youth relative to that of the victim might bring to mind the phrase, “boys will be boys,” giving them a free pass; in fact, until recently, the Arabic term muakssa was used to imply that this behavior was merely “playful.” Now however, understanding of the dangerous, sexually violative nature of it has changed, and the word tahharush, meaning “harassment” is now used. In recognition of just how prevalent this problem is for women in Egyptian society, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, his Ministry of Interior, and the National Council for Women are in the process of drafting a new law which seeks harsher penalties for those who perpetuate the epidemic of sexual violence against women.

Street harassment has been on the rise according to women’s rights organizations there, especially in the wake of the revolution, which simultaneously reduced police presence and increased spontaneous civil unrest. To put the scope of this problem into perspective, as far back as 2008 the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights found that a whopping 83 percent of Egyptian women have been subjected to sexual harassment, and that a full 98 percent of foreign women have also experienced this. I’ve been to Egypt three times, the last time in 2008, and from these statistics can only surmise that it was sheer luck that I personally never encountered this treatment, but I did witness other women being the target of degrading remarks. To address what has become a social pandemic, this past July protesters against sexual violence filled Tahrir Square, where women have suffered repeated verbal harassment and assault as they have tried to join in demonstrations against widespread corruption. This action/reaction of women becoming more politically assertive and then being “punished” with sexual violation for coming into such a symbolic public space speaks volumes, not only degrading women in the moment, but sending the dangerous and intimidating message that women’s voices are not welcome in the political process. As a response, performers and artists in Cairo and other major Egyptian cities organized open mic sessions and exhibits throughout the summer, giving women a safe space in which to share their experiences and fight back against the silencing of their voices. Understandably, some of the victims have only felt comfortable speaking with their backs to the audiences which had come to hear their stories ~ underscoring the shame and stigma which still hangs on victims of sexual violence in Egypt and everywhere around the world.

Prime Minister Qandil has finally acknowledged the dangerousness of these acts to Egyptian society, saying that they are “dealing with sexual harassment as a disastrous phenomenon.” His government has taken a long time to come to this realization– far too long after a widely publicized incident in which several women were stripped naked by a street mob during celebrations for Eid-al-Fitr all the way back in 2006. At least now Mr. Qandil’s government recognizes that educating young men about harassment will be the key to changing the tacit acceptance of it, and has charged the Ministry of Education to distribute informative materials and create anti-harassment messages to be distributed in the media. While these recent efforts are laudable, Qandil and his peers are latecomers to publicizing this problem with social media, since photographs and videos posted to YouTube and Facebook have already been surfacing for years, after a slew of sexual harassment incidents during religious holidays like Eid. Other new methods being deployed against harassment will be surveillance cameras looking out onto streets and squares in Cairo, which should be an effective deterrent.

But there’s major caveat to becoming too hopeful about all these new measures: there are already three articles in Egyptian criminal law which would seem to offer stiff penalties for harassers, such as thirty days of jail time, a hefty fine for verbal harassment, three years of imprisonment for indecent exposure and stalking, and fifteen years in prison for sexual assault, which does include incidents of public groping. So while I want to remain positive in the face of these new steps the government is taking towards the protection of women in public spaces, I’d like to see more done in terms of enforcement of laws already on the books, and most importantly, rooting out of the social acceptance of this behavior. In the meantime, I applaud the brave Egyptian women and their male allies who refuse to be human targets any longer, and insist upon their voices being counted. Let’s see if their nation will really back them up this time.

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Lisa’s story: “It is not flattering to know that I am viewed as a walking set of sex organs.”

I had to go run an errand for my boss at the drugstore up the street. So, I’m obviously focused and in a hurry. I’m also wearing my scrubs, no makeup, hair a mess. This old guy is walking past me as I go up to the register. “Hey, there, sexy,” he says. I stop dead in my tracks and look at him. “Excuuuuuse me?” I ask, with as much sassy indignation as I can muster. “Oh, uh. I said, hi, ma’am…” was his sheepish reply. “You’re fucking right, that’s what you fucking said.” I said and continued walking.

I don’t often get harrassed, and I know the common refrain is that I should be flattered that someone is paying me any attention, but that is total bullshit. It is not flattering to know that I am viewed as a walking set of sex organs. That is not a compliment.

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public masturbation

HOLLA ON THE GO: Unacceptable

A man on the TTC was masturbating while looking at me and my friend it was on the subway on our way to yorkdale from Kennedy.

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Rashida’s story: Stunning

Once, when I was walking home from school. This guy about the same age as me, offered me five dollars to suck his dick. I was stunned.

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Yazmeen’s story: Stalking at its worst

Since Fall of 2007, a man whom I had briefly known in Arlington Virginia (in 1997) is harassing me every day of my life. He is a former employee from a Federal Agency, he was in their Intelligence division. I relocated to Brevard County, Florida in 2004. This man followed me here in 2007.

He sends hundreds of defamatory and threatening messages daily via vehicle tags and on car windows of passing vehicles on the highway; on peoples clothing and accessories when they come to the store where I work. In majority of the messages he addresses me as a “Whore,” and tells me “whore, give me fuck,” and the like. Because his past work experience in the Intelligence community, he tracks every movements of my life. At night he and/or his group members break into my security system and burn/cut my body to threat me to stop to pursue the man I truly love.

The culprit threatens me and the man I love and kept us from seeing each other. I reported the culprit to various levels of law enforcement, the heads of his former agency, some Senators and the past and present Presidents of the United States.

Please advise how to stop this man’s harrassment. Thanks

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Megan’s story: Creeps in golf carts

While my friend walks to class sometimes (more often than once) young male employees of the University who ride around campus on golf carts have holla’d at both her and other girls walking around campus while going to their destination. She says she thinks nothing of it, but the fact that it has happened on more than one occasion and to multiple girls, ESPECIALLY on University equipment by (probable) student employees is unacceptable. It is unprofessional, and it makes the girls who are holla’d at uncomfortable.

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A Week in Our Shoes

Week in Our Shoes: PARTY EDITION

Dear Hollabackers,

I’m thrilled to share all the amazing things Hollaback has been up to across the world this week.

Here in New York I spoke on a panel called Building Healthy Relationships: Preventing Sexual Assault and Dating Violence on Campus hosted by the Center Against Domestic Violence, and Debjani, our Deputy Director, and I attended the New York Women’s Foundation’s 25th Anniversary Celebration on Tuesday which included speeches by prominent women leaders. In addition, The Gothamist included Hollaback in a story about a sickening case of sexual assault which occurred on a New York City subway early last Saturday morning. Please be aware that the video posted in the article has strong content.

And these are some events that our Hollaback activists have been involved in this week:

Hollaback Atlanta‘s relaunch and re-boost party featured the musical stylings of feminist punk band War on Women. What a badass way to spark change in the community.

Hollaback Birmingham just launched a campaign on University of Birmingham’s campus! This is going to be huge and there’s a lot in the works. See more details here.  Not only that but these activists are also getting involved with a ton of progressive sexual harassment initiatives on campus. Great job guys!

Hollaback Brussels was on national television! French speakers be sure to check out these amazing ladies on TF1 French TV.

The Hollaback Des Moines and SlutWalk forces are joining to present HOLLAween – a campaign and event for empowered women and men to say NO to victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and sexual harassment. Those who aren’t in the area can still support them by downloading their Facebook cover photos.

Hollaback Dublin is also getting into the holiday spirit with a HOLLAween-themed pub quiz.

Hollaback Istanbul‘s visual and performance art fundraiser party was a huge success. Their Get Up, Stand Up event raised awareness about ending harassment and violence in all its forms. Donations and proceeds benefited local anti-violence organizations.

Hollaback Philadelphia made their presence known in a group of hundreds who participated in the Slut Walk. This event aimed to demand respect and to help create safe spaces to share our stories.

Hollaback Winnipeg started a vlog (video blog) series about their work and bystander actions. This is such a creative advocacy tool and I’m looking forward to tuning in every Monday for a new installment. View their first post below:

I’m so proud to have such a strong family of activists working together to end street harassment.

HOLLA and out,

Emily May

Executive Director

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Cole’s story: Caught on camera

So leaving the Central Library, I encountered this dude who I said nothing to and as I headed to street behind the library where I parked he hollered several remarks about my “ass” which I ignored completely. I pulled my car around and photographed him harassing two other women. He began a slew of “bitch” this and that and as he threatened to kick my ass for taking his picture and said he would see me again. I assured him that he would. “I don’t give a **** about no police…blah blah blah.” Apparently, he does, since he brought up police; not I. Thought immediately of Hollaback!














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Nicola's Got Nerve

Nicola’s Got Nerve: On Remaining Alert and Using Your Voice

This post, by Nicola Briggs, is part of a series of posts that we call Nicola’s Got Nerve. You may remember Nicola from this incident caught on camera which was viewed by more than 1.5 million people and which sparked outrage from all corners of the globe, bringing street harassment to the forefront of women’s rights issues. We admire’s Nicola’s ability to turn a traumatic event into focused action through writing and activism, and we think you will too.

I know how it is: you’re tired because you stayed up late last night studying or with friends, and you just can’t help yourself from nodding off on that long subway ride into Brooklyn for work. So you do because you’ve taken that route so many times, it’s broad daylight, and you’ve seen so many other people do it. How could it be unsafe? But it is, especially if you’re a woman traveling alone.

Or perhaps you’re standing on a busy subway platform during rush hour reading the newspaper. So you don’t happen to notice a man that has been staring at you and getting too close for comfort. Predators like this rely on their surroundings to hide what they’re doing. Above ground, if someone were to stand that close to you, you’d be immediately aware of it and move away. But because we expect to be packed in with hundreds of others below ground, it gives the sexual predator a psychological advantage and a reason to be inappropriately close to you. However, this crime of opportunity doesn’t only happen during rush hours, but can just as easily occur in the middle of the day on an almost deserted platform as well, because predators like this are searching for three things: someone who they perceive is not a threat to them, someone who is not alert, and someone who they feel will not fight back. In short, this type of predator is searching for a woman alone, who they will try to violate.

This problem in our subway system seems to be growing, with predators getting more and more brazen. Even the prospect of time behind bars doesn’t seem to deter this dangerous type of anti-social behavior. I should know. After I was attacked in 2010, the perpetrator got out on bail and was caught again just a few weeks later for doing the exact same thing to another woman. So the law, which so far treats most of these crimes as misdemeanors, has not been a deterrent to these criminals. On October 6, at around 1:30 pm, police reported that another woman was forcibly touched and subjected to indecent exposure on the Lorimer Street J train platform. (The litany of cases just goes on and on, doesn’t it?)

Fortunately, we’ve got an influential ally in Public Advocate Bill De Blasio who’s trying to change the categorization of these sexually violent offenses to that of felony. He understands the danger that New York women are in if we can’t secure greater penalties for this type of offense. In the meantime, he advises using self-defense to protect yourself and others, by specifically using the power of your voice to defend yourself. “If you feel uncomfortable; you feel something is about to happen, make noise,” De Blasio said. “Make that scene, because it might save you or other people on the train from an attack. Better to make the noise; better to create the distraction, that to wish later you had.”

I could not agree more. I know that if I had not raised my voice (for exactly 8 minutes of controlled screaming, calling attention to the perpetrator and waiting for transit police to arrive), the perpetrator would have gotten away and violated someone else that day. So while it’s more than unfortunate that women have got to remain on alert, it is within our power to defend ourselves just by raising our voices. By using your voice and announcing what is happening to you, you’re able to present yourself to a predator as not standing for this type of behavior, and to onlookers as a person in need of (and deserving of) their help. In short, the power of your voice can protect you from harm and can protect others. It may not seem like the polite thing to do to raise your voice in public, to announce in graphic terms what a predator has tried to do to you, but as De Blasio explains, it’s better to act now so you won’t have regrets later. Remember ladies, raise your voices, and don’t let good manners ruin your day.

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K.’s story: “He respected that I had a boyfriend more than he acknowledged that what he did was harassment”

My boyfriend and I were out in Charlotte’s NoDA district, walking to the car after dinner. Someone behind us started calling out “hey baby” and a few other things, then he asked something like “is that your girl” to my boyfriend.

I turned around angrily to face him. He approached, told me his name and some other crap I don’t remember, and asked me my name. I told him that I don’t give out my name, and that I was trying (emphasis on trying) to enjoy a night out with my boyfriend. I had a pretty strong sense that he would respect that I had a boyfriend more than he would respect that I on my own was not interested in him, and aside from that, I wanted to have a nice night out with my partner, and he was ruining our good time.

As expected, he respected that I had a boyfriend more than he acknowledged that what he did was harassment. He shook my boyfriend’s hand, said a few things, and left.

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