Photo Op: Fighting Harassment with Fashion and Photography

Sya Groosman is a talented, passionate college student and photographer in London who has big dreams to make an artistic impact to fight sexual/street harassment. With her culminating project at the University of Arts, she hopes to raise people’s awareness of the low conviction rates of sexual harassment while channeling her interest in fashion. She brings to light some of the most common experiences of young women everywhere through an artistic protest. Read on for a special and fascinating interview with Sya herself and learn about how to get involved.


Was there an event that served as the breaking point for wanting to explore sexual harassment more?

About a month ago a man followed me home after a night out while shouting out things like “I want to go home with you, you’re so beautiful.” Thank God it never became violent, but this event did make me realize: I have to do this project, even if it only creates awareness on a small level. Before this, I’ve always used my photography to criticize the roles of women in our society, yet I didn’t how to turn it into a project. I always thought of it as a very important but very sensitive subject and so decided to wait until it was the right timing for me and society. There is a lot going on about this in the news now, which makes it so much more interesting to explore.


How did you get into photography? Was this always a medium you wanted to use?

Yes, my love for photography started around the age of 15 when I got my first digital camera. And when I started my BA in Photography at the University of the Arts in Utrecht 3 years later, I found that this was a medium that I could use to express my opinion. You could make beautiful images that you may want to buy for your living room but that never loses that underlying critical concept. Hopefully it makes the viewer think about what is going on in our society.


Who do you want to influence with your finished project? Who is your target audience for this?

Sexual harassment survivors and their friends and family, as well as all the other people that have a strong opinion about sexual harassment without ever experiencing it. I’m definitely not targeting rapists or offenders, because these are just sick people and I know that an art project won’t change that. But I do hope that by creating awareness, girls realize that it is not something to be ashamed of.


Why do you think people assume that clothing always serves as an invite for unwanted sexual attention?

It seems to be the easiest excuse. By coincidence, I spoke to a guy in a club in London last weekend, and he sincerely asked me “Why are all the English girls dressed as sluts but don’t act like it?” I don’t know what he said to the girls he approached, but I told him clearly, if you approach a girl like she is a slut, why would she ever feel flattered and actually like you? She may dress in the clothes she likes but it doesn’t mean she takes them off just as easily. Likewise I wasn’t dressed provocatively after my night out when the guy followed me home, and most women in the street, during daylight, aren’t wearing such clothing either.  In my opinion every form of sexual harassment is an expression of power, about intimidating and having control over women.


Any empowering words of advice for young women all around the world?

Please do go to the police and tell your story. You never asked to be harassed, even if you are wearing that short skirt. You are not the offender and you didn’t do anything wrong–nothing gives a man the right to harass you. We’re not pieces of meat, we’re human beings.


Contact Sya or message her on Facebook to get involved with her amazing project:

Email: [email protected]

Phone: +44 (0)7585934641



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Erika’s story: “He decided to walk in and put his keys down my shirt”

I’m not entirely sure if this counts, but I decided to try. I’m fairly young – 15 – and I have a rather large bust. I have gotten negative attention for it since I was in sixth grade, but this is something that has continuously brought me down when I remember it.

I was sitting in my seat before my French class started, wearing a tank top that wasn’t low-cut hidden with a slightly open button-up blouse. I was feeling awesome that day, because I love that outfit and it makes me feel gorgeous. A boy that I’ve known since elementary school walked in, and my seat’s back is to the door, so I didn’t realize it. He was holding his keys for some reason; they were on a lanyard (that’s important). He had been poking me and being perverted for a while, so he decided to walk in and put his keys down my shirt. He held them by the lanyard and slid them down my shirt, then back up. That’s one of the most brazen things anybody’s ever done to me, so I was shocked. He started laughing, and I told him I could report him for that. He simply laughed again and said, “No you can’t, it wasn’t my hand.”

I told my teacher, who reported it and said they would call me to the office to take a statement. That was five months before school ended. School is out and they STILL haven’t addressed it.

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Shanali’s Story: “The statement was sexual harassment and completely inappropriate”

My CCRB Report for today:

At 12:01PM – Queens Blvd and Union Turnpike, besides the train station. The officer was driving a patrol car in uniform. Lic plate#8612 Black hair, dark eyes, strong built, about 190 lbs, looks mid twenties. I was walking towards Union Turnpike on an errand for my supervisor when the Police Officer used the sound system of this NYPD van to state: I like your booty You are who Im looking at. No other car with sound system was around. The van then made a right unto Union Turnpike towards the highway. The statement was sexual harassment and completely inappropriate for a uniformed police officer on patrol or on court duty.

Note: This is the second complaint to the CCRB that I have to make on sexual harrassment by an NYPD Officer on duty. The first time, the CCRB followed up by having the Detective’s supervisor call me. The supervisor proceeded by letting me know that it was just a misunderstanding, the Detective did not mean to lean on my desk and stop the flow of my work by hovering over my computer and texting with his hands almost on my face. My expectation of this experience: Just about anything irrelevant to really addressing the issue that NYPD officers sexually harrass women on the streets and in work places.

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Charlie’s Story: “Me and my friend legged it back to her house away from the creeps”

I was walking back from Ikea with one of my friends, and these two creepy teenagers were following us. We were only about 13 or 14 at the time and they must have been at least 18, but one of them reached out and grabbed my butt, then leered at me and was like “I’m coming home with you, doll.”
Suffice to say me and my friend legged it back to her house away from the creeps.

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A week in our shoes: UP THE RIVER EDITION

Hi Hollabackers!

Up the River Endeavors! Last week I went to Martha’s Vineyard for a retreat with our incredible funder — Up the River Endeavors.  The head of the foundation, Mal Jones (pictured left) is a feminist social entrepreneur who is interested in women internationally working collectively to impact the root causes of the major social problems facing us today.

One-on-one calls with new site leaders! This week we spoke with our Class 6 site leaders and strategized with them on how to make their Hollaback sites a success. The sites are scheduled to launch in September.

Partnerships galore.  This week we spoke with Wagner College and Sisters on the Runway, an organization that has raised over $50,000 toward ending domestic violence. We also got a shout-out from our partners at SPARK, check it out.

Lastly, here is your moment of HOLLA-zen, from our site leader Priti Narayan in Chennai, India who was quoted in this article:

“I have been groped a few times on the streets of Chennai. What troubles me is that these incidents are not taken seriously. It takes someone to die (Sarika from the famous 1998 “eve teasing” case) or for something to involve a mob and a video camera for the nation to be outraged about these things.

“Truth is, it happens to thousands of women everyday. What I would like to see is sustained conversation on this issue beyond the general short-livedness of public memory, and for street harassment to be treated like the crime it is by the police, in everyday situations, beyond asking us to ‘be careful’.”

History has always been made by badasses, and our site leaders are no exception. Need more proof? Check out Hollaback Boston’s recent workshop.

HOLLA and out —




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R.’s Story: I was speechless for second and simply showed him my middle finger

While I was riding my bike from the Louisenring onto the Kurpfalz-Bridge in Mannheim there was a car with three of four youngster in it passing me by. On the right side of the car the passenger, who wore a polo shirt and had black-ish hair all spiked up, had the car window pulled down and while I drove by he was sticking out his tongue and did a movement of licking, as if he wanted to “lick me”…
I was speechless for second and simply showed him my middle finger.

They drove off laughing hysterically.

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A Healthy Expression of Street-Harasser-Frustration!

Cross Posted from Hollaback! Baltimore

The latest mental disorder SHF (or Street Harasser Frustration) has few remedies. The cure is less street harassment in the world. Until scientists come up with the eradication cure, women, girls, and lgbtq folks are forced to administer their own treatments. Here is one such treatment, courtesy of the girls from St. Francis Community Center:


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“I noticed him, one eye closed, one looking at me, rubbing himself”

This man watched me on the D train from Herald Square to Grand Street. Then going over the bridge I noticed him, one eye closed, one looking at me, rubbing himself. I looked down and noticed his penis sticking our of his shorts. I shouted NO, then he readjusted and played asleep until I got off at my stop. I thought about telling him he was gross, rude, inappropriate, wrong, tell the train what he did-but after he’d so quickly readjusted himself I worried that no one would recognize what happened/validate me.

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Anonymous’s Story: A sad realization

I am 38 and just realized I have experienced over two decades of street harassment.

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“Holla WHAT? Hollaback!”: Computer Clubhouse 2012 Teen Summit at NU

Cross Posted from Hollaback! Boston

This past Thursday, July 12th, I had the privilege of leading a workshop on Hollaback! Boston at theComputer Clubhouse 2012 Teen Summit at Northeastern University. The Teen Summit is:

a biennial event that includes opportunities for Clubhouse youth to express their ideas with high-end technologies, such as graphic design, video animation, digital art, music, radio and documentary film-making, and 3-D modeling. 

Teaching a group of engaged, tech-savvy teens about the Hollaback! movement (our aptly titled workshop: “Holla WHAT? Hollaback!”) was truly rewarding experience. I got to teach the teens about the pervasive nature of street harassment, why it is an international problem, and ways to take action through holla’ing back or being a bystander. I shared videos on how the Hollaback! movement got started, how pervasive street harassment is for women and LGBTQI-individuals, and how men can be effective bystanders. I shared some of our favorite comics which inspired some of the participants to make comics of their own!

My favorite part of the workshop was the last hour, where the teens had the option to create comics, poems, haikus, or skits to respond to street harassment. Seeing the teens from all around the world (seriously, we had participants from Palestine, New Zealand, Australia, and California!) collaborate on projects to end street harassment was a powerful moment. I was able to see how engaged our generation is and how passionate individuals can get when given the tools to talk back to unacceptable, dangerous behavior in our culture, such as street harassment.

A group of teens working together on a Hollaback! campaign.

Coming up with street harassment comics

I was so impressed with the group by the end of the workshop! It was amazing for me to see teens from all around the world grasp on to the Hollaback! movement. Here are some of their final products:

Imani uses the whiteboard for a cartoon: “Hi chick!” “I’m no chick, I’m human!”

Using poetry to respond to street harassment.

Nick and Nick Jr.’s comic: “Hey, wassup baby girl?” “I have a name you know.”

Bystander awesomeness! “Hey man, what’s wrong with (you) man?! Cut it out!”

Each piece of work showed a different approach to understanding street harassment and getting involved in Hollaback’s work to end it, whether by being a badass bystander (I love that cartoon) or coming up with snappy remarks to unwelcome comments. There were a few more written pieces that I plan on sharing in a separate post, soon!

What do you think of these teens’ work? What are other ways you get teens involved with social justice? Leave your thoughts and comments below!

– Jane

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