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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.
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.
It was during the session with Hollaback that my eyes truly opened. The girls in my class started speaking about their past experiences with street harassment and the stories just didn’t stop. Every time one girl was finished recalling some time some guy did something to her on the street it seemed that another girl would just step in and start telling her story.
The number of stories was never-ending. It seemed as if the stories were only getting worse. I was shocked at the kinds of things that were happening to my classmates and I was more shocked as to how clueless I was during all of this. I was clueless because I never even realized how close street harassment really was to me. It made me wonder about all the women in my own personal life that had been street harassed and all the times that they never even mentioned it to me. Yet it was still those girls in my class who, upon being asked and opening up about these experiences, truly changed my ideals.
If these women have gone through traumatic experiences from which they had lasting memories, then most definitely women I know even more personally have gone through this type of harassment as well. It is scary to think that all of these things are going on without ever being called out. It’s scary to think that a man can completely get away with making a woman feel uncomfortable or unsafe on the street or subway. It made me think that I needed to say something as a male for all of those males that do not believe in street harassment and all those males who think that the rules behind these every day happenings should change. I needed to say that it shocks and appalls me too, as not all guys are like that and we want to help women and girls who have to deal with harassment on a daily basis.
Submitted by Ian, a senior in high school
I think you’re really…
Pop the bubbly, it’s Friday afternoon and we’ve got killer news. The NYC Council’s Committee on Women’s Issues is holding a hearing on “Street Harassment of Women and Girls.” Why?
Because you holla’ed back, and they listened.
One incredible woman, named Elizabeth Mendez Barry, holla’ed in El Diario (read it in English, here). Her op-ed, called “Street Harassment, the uncomfortable walk home,” inspired the city council, along with complaints from school administrators, to take action. Her bold act reminds us of the importance of using our voices to speak out, and of the power of the op-ed. To learn how to write your own op-ed, visit The Op-Ed Project. In the words of Holly Kearl from Stop Street Harassment, “it changed my life.”
The hearing will take place on Thursday, October 28th, 2010 at 1pm in the 14th floor committee room at 250 Broadway. We want to pack the room. If you are willing to tell your story to the city council, please reach out to us. We’re happy to help you develop your testimony if you’ve never done it before. If you just want to show up in solidarity on your lunch hour, that would be rad too.
This is an incredible opportunity to push your hollabacks off the computer screen and in front of legislators. Women represent 50% of the voting block, and legislators already know that making powerful waves on this will be good for their political careers. But what they don’t know is the extent to which this is happening, and how incredibly important this issue is. That’s our job. We’ve got to ban together and seize this opportunity.
If you’re interested in being a part of this, reach out to Emily May at [email protected] If you can’t be there — tell us what changes you’d like to see in this city, below.
“Great photography tells stories.”
All of your photos tell a story. A story that is rarely told, but that captures the experience of 90-100% of women internationally. The grainy-ness, the blurriness, it tells a story. Much better than a thousand dollar camera ever could. So enter your hollabacks for a chance to win $25K. You’d transform the field of photography, bring awareness to street harassment, plus you’d be rich. Sweet.
The first Annual Westside Domestic Violence Walk will take place on Thursday, October 28th from 10:30am to 1pm, in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the organizers, “This walk is to educate and raise awareness in the community about the issue of domestic violence and to join other advocates, treatment providers, survivors and community members in solidarity against domestic violence and its devastating impact on individuals, society and our healthcare system. We will gather in front of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Amsterdam Avenue and 112th Street at 10:30 am for a rally before the one mile walk down to 100th Street on Amsterdam Avenue, turning to Broadway and back up to the Cathedral where there will be speakers and refreshments.”
As we well know, all forms of sexual violence work together to create a world that is not-so-nice to women and LBGTQ folks. At the national sexual assault conference this year, I had the opportunity to meet with a woman who was at the head of the domestic violence movement when it started. She said it was started by a bunch of survivors, in a living room, with little more than some telephones and a lot of passion. This woman went for six years without being paid. Only forty years later, there is a notable infrastructure for survivors of domestic violence around the country.
I told her I thought the movement to end street harassment was blessed. The support was overwhelming, and although we didn’t have any money, we had a lot of passion in living rooms across the world. She said that’s all it takes. She said we were doing the right thing by coming forward and telling our stories; that’s where it all starts. I smiled, humbled. We wouldn’t be doing this work if women like her didn’t come before us. Hats off to her, and hats off to the Domestic Violence walk for continuing to build a world where everyone can be safe and free.