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BY KC WAGNER AND EMILY MAY, reposted from Women’s eNews.
The community around fighting street harassment is growing stronger and has pointed to its pervasiveness. K.C. Wagner and Emily May say more research is needed to lay the groundwork necessary to end this type of harassment.
(WOMENSENEWS)–The rape allegations against former International Monetary Fund Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and now Egyptian former bank chair Mahmoud Abdel Salam Omar by two hotel maids have refocused the world’s attention on the risks that women face by going to work.
Comments about someone’s body, assumptions based on race or sexuality, inappropriate touching, gestures, or sexual requests–it seems that everyone either has a story or knows someone that does. And we never know when these situations will escalate.
As egregious as the allegations are against Strauss-Kahn and Omar, there’s a fundamental difference between harassment in the past and today. Today, a name exists for what has happened, systems of accountability are in place and laws protect those who are victimized.
Even this limited progress has not extended to the streets though. Today a silent epidemic rages on. Street harassment–or sexual harassment in public spaces–is fast becoming the flashpoint issue for an emerging generation of activists, just as workplace harassment was in 1980s. And like in the 1980s, a solid coordination of activism, research and analysis is needed to move street harassment from the background to the forefront.
In 1991, when the Anita Hill v. Clarence Thomas case captured the public’s attention about “sexual harassment,” activists, academics, legal scholars, legislators and practitioners had been at least a decade “in the trenches.” They had already been developing vehicles for women’s voices across the country, analyzing crisis counseling and hotline records, conducting scientifically based studies and writing academic articles, articulating a feminist jurisprudence, defending women in court and beginning to influence workplace prevention and policies and challenging workplace norms. A strong platform from this decade of academic and activist work was in place to challenge the victim-blaming and vilification of Hill and to continue the fight.
Street harassment is no different than workplace harassment in its purpose and its effect. It is meant to put victims in their place, to remind them that they are objects and that their safety is a privilege, not a right. As a result, people change jobs, leave apartments or whole cities and suffer long-term stress and anxiety orders.
Now young activists internationally, at nonprofits such as Hollaback! and in projects such as Stop Street Harassment, Blank Noise Project and WomenSpeak, are beginning to stand up and say “no more.”
In 2005, a group of young friends, men and women from ages 21 to 24, were telling their stories of street harassment. When they walked alone, they felt vulnerable and powerless; when they would yell at the instigators of the harassment, the situation escalated; police did not seem to respond to their concerns. One of the men in the group said to his female friends: “You live in a different New York City than we do.”
They did what many youth would do when faced with a similar challenge: they started a blog. Called Hollaback!, it was intended to bring awareness to street harassment. They were quickly inundated by others’ stories and supporters. Today 24 Hollaback! sites are up and running, from Croatia to Argentina to Atlanta. This newly forming community of voices combines story-telling with on-the-ground activism. And with coverage in The New York Times, the BBC and NPR in the past year, the world is clearly listening. We believe the time is right to tackle this long overdue issue once and for all.
However, the leaders of the movement to end street harassment face a challenge similar to the early days of the workplace harassment movement: little data.
Activists working to end street harassment have responded by collecting crowd-sourced data. With the more than 2,000 stories collected and mapped on ihollaback.org through Hollaback!’s iPhone and Droid applications, we know that no one is alone in his or her experiences. Street harassment impacts young women in particular, with factors like race and sexuality tending to increase the frequency and severity of the harassment. A study conducted through an online survey tool by Holly Kearl, published in her 2010 book “Stop Street Harassment,” indicates that between 80-100 percent of women have been harassed at some point during their lives.
But knowing that crowd-sourced data is self-selecting and cannot paint a broader, more complete picture, street harassment activists are asking for more.
In October 2010, over 100 activists crowded into a standing-room-only city council room at New York City’s first ever hearing on street harassment, hosted by Councilmember Julissa Ferrarras, and sounded a call for more research.
During the hearing, advocates called for a study that would produce the data needed to address street harassment in New York City. The study would look at the long-term impact of street harassment and the effectiveness of both formal and informal solutions in making people feel safer in their communities.
It would be the first of its kind at a time when governments internationally are searching for solutions. In this ever-tightening budget year, a study on street harassment is a relatively inexpensive method for New York City to lead the way. More important, such research provides an opportunity to provide concrete solutions to a deep-seated social issue.
Street harassment activists know they have many more battles ahead. But research is a critical early step as it allows us to move this issue from an individual to a collective experience. If we wait, we fear that yet another generation will have to endure the same harassing experiences.
Now is the time for City Council to take this small first step toward a day when street harassment is taken as seriously as workplace sexist behavior.
Early this spring, I was running with other members of my high school girls track team. We were waiting for our coach, and we decided to stretch in an empty driveway along the street. Suddenly, one of us noticed a man in another driveway nearby, holding up a cell phone towards us and apparently taking a picture of us with it. A similar incident happened another day, when a man in a car photographed us as we were running. Both perpetrators left immediately after the incidents.
A few months after both of those incidents, I was running with a few other girls around the downtown area of our town. As we were standing at a corner and waiting for the light to change so we could cross, a man happened to walk towards us along the sidewalk. He appeared to be in his 40s or 50s, had apparently not shaved in a few days, and was wearing dark sunglasses that hid his face. As he passed us, he appeared to be looking at our legs, and we did not realize until he was past us that he had said ‘beautiful’ as he walked by us, quietly. This shocked all of us, and we were not sure it had happened until we looked at each others’ faces and knew all of us had heard it. He walked away as if he hadn’t just harassed us, and we pretended the same for the rest of our run.
We have also been yelled at by kids our age or younger. Once kids in a restaurant we ran past yelled “work those thighs!” repeatedly at us, and both the first time we ran past and as we ran back the same way. A few times, boys who were still in middle school yelled at us, talked about us, or even briefly tried to block or follow us as we were running.
Female athletes have the right to exercise in public (even in short running shorts) without being harassed and objectified! The fact that we happen to be wearing shorts does not remove our right to exercise, and our right to be treated like human beings, not pieces of meat. We did not react to these incidents and call out the perpetrators, and just put up with it, even though maybe we should have done something. This is a way that society treats female bodies as things to be looked at, while male bodies belong to those who inhabit them and are for their own use. (Often shirtless) male runners never worry about things like this; it is immediately accepted that they are not showing off their bodies, so that they can be objectified, but instead that they are running to become faster, and that their small amount of clothing is nothing more than a necessity for running in hot weather.
BY EMILY MAY
As a quick look at our global network of 24 sites will show you, street harassment is a global problem. Too often, governments are afraid to tackle it and resign themselves to tired old idea that there is nothing you can do about it. But not the UN. They are taking it on head first, UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet said:
Women, youth and children — especially girls — face particular risks in [cities]. Whether on city streets, public transport or in their own neighbourhoods, they are subject to abuse ranging from harassment to sexual assault and rape. This daily reality limits their freedom to participate in education, work, recreation, and in political and economic life — or to simply enjoy their neighbourhoods.
On July 1st I’ll be heading to UN Women’s Safe Cities Conference in Cairo, Egypt. The Safe Cities project has been doing some amazing work in five cities around the world, and now they are partnering with UNICEF and UN-HABITAT to expand this project to 20 cities internationally. From their site:
Potential interventions may include:
- Enabling women and young people to have a voice in decisions that affect their lives such as decisions on budgets and local infrastructure
- Establishing female councillor-led committees for effective response to sexual violence and crimes in communities
- Increasing street lights in high-risk areas, including the use of solar lights which are cost-effective and more resilient to damage and vandalism
- Training of community police units to prevent gender-based violence
The five-year initiative will be piloted with municipal leaders. Dushanbe, Greater Beirut, Metro Manila, Marrakesh, Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, San José and Tegucigalpa are among the cities currently being considered.
Sounds amazing, right? But wait for it: it gets better. From UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet:
We will also promote data collection, build baselines and develop indicators through women- and youth-led initiatives and innovative efforts, such as mapping through text messaging and the use of Geographic Information Systems in women’s, youth and child safety audits.
Yes. You are not dreaming. The UN is looking into launching women and youth-led crowd-sourced data collection to incidences of harassment and assault!
We will keep you posted on the progress. But suffice it to say, we are oh-so-excited.
BY EMMA reposted from: Elephant Journal
Last weekend led me to a family reunion halfway across the country. Travel can feel un-grounding for me, and so, with yoga mat in tow I prepared to carry deep breaths cross-country via plane.
The slow spring sunshine finally pulled me outside to the lawn to stretch and practice on the second day of the trip. I felt grateful for the fresh air, warm grass and sun. I had convinced my cousin, a “yoga-virgin” to join me in practice. With each breath the sun came out further and I felt my body finding a new sense of grounding and expansion amidst the busyness of a family reunited.
Cars had been driving past our lawn-turned-yoga-studio throughout our practice and so the sound of engines provided more of a consistent sound track than an annoyance. There was one car, however, that stood out from the rest. From the front seats of the indistinguishable black sedan peered two men, presumably college students from the local state university.
First I returned their gaze, becoming aware of their eyes as I melted forward into a seated forward bend. I quickly regretted my decision to look to my right when my eyes were met by the abrasive sounds of catcalls hollering out into the stalled traffic.
I glanced to my right to make sure I was getting this image right. Were these guys for real?
As if looking for some sort of understanding I stifled a groan, turning to my cousin for validation in my disgust. I could feel the frustration bumbling up inside of me. I felt shocked and conflicted. Taking a deep breath in and out I reflected in my forward fold. My practice is about compassion and patience, I reminded myself and yet in the midst of it I had the urge to yell back, to stick up for myself, and reassure these catcalling men that blatant objectification of women is never OK.
Rather than yell back, I breathed another dirgha (three-part yogic) breath and after a second catcall, the light changed and the car pulled forward into the intersection. I felt myself rolling my decision to remain silent over and over again in my mind. This time I chose understanding, I told myself.
My cousin didn’t understand, he had never witnessed or been victim to a similar instance. I wish I could say that this sort of act is an anomaly but unfortunately, it isn’t. Earlier that week my sister had been catcalled and photographed while biking by a passing group of construction workers in their truck—not cool.
I am not trying to suggest that only men are catcalling—I have definitely witnessed women falling guilty of the same act. Nor am I suggesting that only women are victims to the calls or that all guys catcall. But, I am saying that with each utterance of a catcall, hurt is felt. Whether you think we can hear your call or not, take a second and realize what you’re doing by yelling out.
Sure you may think I look pretty awesome in my forward fold but that’s not the point. Please resist the urge to holler and instead send out some love. Yogis and bicyclists alike much appreciate the respect.
Once I found Hollaback, I started thinking of my experiences and found quite a few. There was one that I didn’t even see as harassment but now I see it has always stayed with me in the most negative of ways. This was very long ago but I feel this is the perfect way to talk about it. I was about 10 years old and was sent to a nearby store to get something needed to cook. As I walked, this guy on a bike stopped me and asked if I knew where a certain street was, I said “No, sorry” and continued on. He did this about 4 more times until I reached the store. Once I got out I took a different route home because of the fear he might catch up with me again–I felt very uncomfortable. Once I was pretty close to my house I thought I was free but he called out once again and said “Hey, look at this…” I looked toward him and realized he was flashing me—I couldn’t move, I felt horrible and though he did not approach me further I felt dirty. I finally got home and didn’t even know what to do–I knew something was wrong. I hated how he made me feel and now I hate that he specifically targeted me and went out of his way to make me feel that way. It has been 10 years since it happened but I still feel glad I found somewhere safe to say, “fuck you!”
Once I found Hollaback, I started thinking of my experiences and found quite a few. There was one that I didn’t even see as harassment but now I see it has always stayed with me in the most negative of ways. This was very long ago but I feel this is the perfect way to talk about it. I was about 10 years old and was sent to a nearby store to get something needed to cook. As I walked, this guy on a bike stopped me and asked if I knew where a certain street was, I said “No, sorry” and continued on. He did this about 4 more times until I reached the store. Once I got out I took a different route home because of the fear he might catch up with me again–I felt very uncomfortable. Once I was pretty close to my house I thought I was free but he called out once again and said “Hey, look at this…” I looked toward him and realized he was flashing me—I couldn’t move, I felt horrible and though he did not approach me further I felt dirty. I finally got home and didn’t even know what to do–I knew something was wrong. I hated how he made me feel and now I hate that he specifically targeted me and went out of his way to make me feel that way. It has been 10 years since it happened but I still feel glad I found somewhere safe to say, “FUCK YOU!!…Hollaback.
This incident happened when I was about 12 years old (I am 20 now) and I was in a park with a friend. We had spent the entire day at the pool and we were laying on the playground asphalt sunbathing and waiting for my mom to come pick us up (the park was right next to the pool). We definitely weren’t alone in the park since there were mothers and children all around us, houses across the street and lifeguards at the pool next door. All of a sudden, a man with very short shorts came up to the park and leaned up against the trash can with his leg pushed up against the can (his package was very obviously hanging out of his tiny shorts). I saw what was going on but I didn’t really understand it, so I ignored it. The mothers automatically caught on and left, without saying anything to my friend and I. All of a sudden we were in the park by ourselves, with the man. He then walked down to a park bench in a shaded area. I looked over at him and he had his entire penis out of his shorts and he was aggressively masturbating while looking directly at us. Being 12 years old and very naive, I was totally confused and didn’t know what to do until my friend saw what was going on and grabbed my arm and ran with me to the entrance of the pool. Thankfully my mom arrived as we were walking up to the entrance and being the fierce mama-bear she is, searched the park for him, screaming for him, but couldn’t find him. We called the police and made a report and they came to my house with mugshots, hoping to catch the guy (apparently he’s been caught doing this before) but they never did catch him. The really sad part is that this happened in a very wealthy and nice part of town where there were plenty of people around. I also don’t understand why those mothers did not warn my friend and I. Now that I look back on it, I wasn’t scared when it was going on.. just confused. I didn’t understand why a man would want to do something like that to little girls and I was never taught to look out for things like that.. especially at the playground. Now that I am adult, I am always on the look out but it terrifies me to think that there are young girls, and boys, who are just as naive as what I was.
Until street harassment and sexual violence ends, we need to have each other’s backs. To make sure Tara’s story never happens again and to build a world where everyone can sit in a park safely, donate today.
I was riding the crowded T home and I felt something poking into my ass. At first I thought nothing of it and assumed it was someone’s bag, since that tends to happen a lot on the rush hour trains. I decided to turn around, though, and saw a man standing behind me with his thumb in his pocket and his fingers bent into a fist and realized that THAT was what was touching me. That his fist was pressing into me. I moved away as much as I could (in this case, a few inches), wondered if it was an accident or not but realized it probably wasn’t. At Copley, when half the train emptied, I moved to the other side and he ended up following me there. I saw him positioned directly behind another girl, looked up at him and stared him down for at least five seconds, and he didn’t break eye contact. It was disgusting and a complete display of domination. He knew I knew what he had done to me and was trying to do to her as well. At that point I somewhat loudly told the girl he was preying on, “You might want to move forward a few inches” and glanced back at him. I hope she got the message, because at that point my stop had come and I bolted home. Revolting.
For the majority of my life when people made cat calls or honked at me on the street I would just glare back enraged but not saying a word. Well that part of my life is over.
At least three times now in Toronto when someone feels the need to tell me something such as this fine fellow “which one of you wants to take a ride on me first” I address it head on. Astonishingly once I begin to ask them what they just said to me and ask whether or not they’ve heard of a thing called sexual harassment (usually causing a scene on the busy streets or in the mall) they tend to back away even apologizing. Not that sincere, but still gets the job done.
A couple of months ago this man was following two girls around my age down the street and kept telling them they were beautiful and asking for their numbers. They were clearly uncomfortable but were trying to ignore him (to no avail) so finally I spoke up and told him, not so kindly to back off. Of course this lead to him swearing at me and asking me if I realized he wasn’t talking to me. But no, it didn’t end there, two other men on the street that didn’t even know this guy also started to chime in and yell at me, it was a little too much to handle so I just walked down the side street and away from them. But hey, at least those two girls got to walk in peace.
This was before I heard about Hollaback on the news awhile back but here’s my story. I was on my way to the train station after getting out of class. When I was going up the escalator to the ticket booth I saw a man going down the stairs to my left who was starring at me. I tried not to notice and looked up at the ticketing booth hoping he’d keep moving the opposite direction. He said something along the lines of don’t you look nice, in which I smugly responded with a thanks… I would have just ignored it, however I’ve dealt with too many instances in the past where I ignore the catcalls and they then proceed to follow me. I was hoping in this case that it would deter that type of interaction. Wrong. He then turned around on the stairs and began walking up along side of me. I then proceeded to ignore him and look away in disgust. The filth that was pouring out of him mouth was unbelievable, detailing the things he’d do to me and his lewd comments about my body that made my flesh crawl. I told him to leave me alone but he pressed on. He stood next to me as I was waiting in line for the automated ticket machine to open up. It wasn’t late at night, there was light pouring through the windows. There were a number of people waiting in the train station lobby that were viewing the interaction, but yet I felt alone. The pervert then propositioned us to go into the bathroom together and I was speechless that he had the audacity to suggest such a thing. I wanted to use harsh words but I was afraid that if I did if it would prompt him to attack me, and if everyone would just watch that as well. I stormed off to the man that was at the ticket counter, where finally the scumbag left me alone. I told one of my male friends what happened, and he interjected with…”well what were you wearing?”. That was almost as offensive as everything that I just went though. What a rotten day.
The time has come for people to stop standing there, watching, and judging when they see others being stalked and harassed. To make sure Blue’s story never happens again, and to build a world where we all have each other’s backs, donate today.