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This guide is geared toward teachers, guidance counselors, parents and other educators in New York City who want to address the issue of street harassment amongst middle and high school aged students.
Want to spread the word around your school and community? Download a free Hollaback! School Action Pack today, including posters, pamphlets, and a full version of “Holla 101: An Educator’s Guide to Street Harassment.”
HOLLA 101: An Educator’s Guide to Street Harassment
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The purpose of this guide is to provide information and resources to staff, faculty, parents and students in New York City middle and high schools on street harassment: what it is, how young people are affected by it and what we can do about it. The phenomena of street harassment, or public sexual harassment, is widely experienced yet still under-recognized and underreported as a form of gender and sexual based violence.
With regard to their 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), a 2011 report released by the Center for Disease Control states that “non-contact unwanted sexual experiences,” including street harassment, is “the most common form of sexual violence experienced by both men and women” in the United States.
Hollaback!’s method of collecting stories and mapping cases of street harassment internationally through a web-based blogging platform has highlighted the prevalence of street harassment as a problem in need of individual, community and institutional responses. Despite its prevalence, street harassment is not yet included in existing New York City Department of Education curriculums that cover topics such as healthy relationships, sex education or bullying. The purpose of this guide is to expand these conversations and to highlight the ways in which street harassment affects young people in our communities, especially considering the fact that it is during the teen/adolescent years when street harassment is first experienced. The multiple stories on our blog show that these experiences shape a person’s sense of self and safety in the world.
With this in mind, this guide will provide faculty, staff, parents and students with the following:
an understanding of what street harassment is and what it looks like for young people;
how it affects and impacts young people;
how to start conversations with young people about it;
what can be done to support young people who experience it; and
where to refer young people who may need further assistance and support
This guide is a preventative tool so that we can work together to create safer streets, schools, neighborhoods and communities for everyone.
Street harassment, or sexual harassment in public spaces, is when people are targeted or discriminated against based on their identity. Street harassment has been normalized globally over time, and has historically been considered a day in the life of being a girl, woman, and/or LGBTQ-identified individual. In fact, it is one of the most commonly experienced forms of gender and sexuality based discrimination and objectification that young people face. For example, a young woman could be walking to school and a harasser may make vulgar comments about what she is wearing or what she looks like. A young man could be targeted with homophobic slurs while walking to school if he does not fit into traditional masculine representations of identity and sexuality.
The spectrum of what constitutes street harassment is wide and includes whistling, leering or comments such as ‘hey baby’ or, ‘can I get piece of that?’ It also includes physical contact such as brushing, touching, or groping, or equally offensive non-physical contact like public exposure and masturbation. Street harassment, an offense in and of itself, is a gateway crime, where seemingly harmless words escalate to physical contact and other forms of violence, including stalking, assault, or rape. Some forms of street harassment, such as physical contact or public exposure, are even considered criminal behavior under the penal code in New York City. The spectrum of street harassment includes the following:
-Sexually explicit gestures
-Unwelcome touching and hugging
-Sexist and insulting graffiti
-Comments about your body
-Demanding ‘Hey baby, give me a smile’
-Tales of sexual exploits
-Exaggerated, mocking “courtesy”
-Graphic descriptions of pornography
-Pressure for dates
-Hooting, sucking, lip-smacking, and animal noises
-Invading a person’s space
Overt physical acts include:
-Sexual sneak attacks (grabbing breasts or buttocks on the run)
-Pressing or rubbing against the person’s body
-Soliciting sexual services
-Demanding sexual services
The comments and gestures are often dismissed as harmless or even as compliments, but those comments and gestures are part of a larger inequity faced by women, girls and LGBTQ identified individuals globally. People who comment on your body or clothes are also telling you that it’s their right to do so, whether it’s welcomed or not. It is up to the individual to determine whether or not the comments and gestures are unwelcome or unwanted, but in situations of street harassment, you don’t have a say in the matter. Street harassment is a form of discrimination that plays out through intimidation, assumed sexual availability, assumed inferiority or sexism, and gender-based violence, and the impacts on the individual are multiple. People have shared stories on the Hollaback! blog of feeling the need to cover up, to wear baggy clothes, to not wear a certain pair of shoes, or worse yet, not to go to school unless they had to. Countless stories show that street harassment shapes how we walk down our streets, and that’s a problem.
Imagine you are 14 years old and walking to school. You find yourself being followed by a man much older than you who comments on your clothes and appearance at the crosswalk. How would you feel, what would you say, or what would you do? How would that shape your day or affect your walk to school the next day? The following stories were shared on our blog by young people who were in very similar circumstances here in New York City.
“I was walking down the street with my friend on the way back from lunch. I’m a high school girl, I hear voices coming from a car so I turn around. I hear one man go “hey get into the back seat” and another “you can get back on my seat”. I’ve had this happen to me enough times so usually I just let it go but this one set me off in particular. I told them I didn’t ask them and they should go f#!! themselves. Probably wasn’t the best response but I felt so angry and so determined to let them know what they did was not okay.“
“When I was in high school I took the train every day. The stop was only a 10 minute walk from the school, but in the blistering cold it was the worst 10 minutes of your life. Although it was a really nice neighborhood, my first class was later than most students and the side streets were deserted aside from the few of the lingering degenerates who went to their first class late every day, so I usually avoided them and walked on the main road. Almost every single day of my senior year I was honked at on my way to school. And not just by high school creeps, but by grown men on their way to work. The worst time was when it was a large truck, and the horn was so loud I thought they were about to hit me until I heard ‘ey mamacita you lookin fine’ from the window as they passed. My heart didn’t stop pounding for an hour, and the whole walk home I was alert for any repeat performance. The worst is, they had to know they were driving passed a high school, and therefore knew they were catcalling underaged girls.“
Comments and gestures targeting LGBTQ individuals are often of a different and more blatantly threatening nature. There has been a recent spate of high-profile cases in New York City, where LGBTQ individuals have been targeted. These cases started with verbal harassment and confrontations but in some cases escalated to severe physical assault and violence.
“School had just gotten out and, just as I did every other day, I met my girlfriend to walk her home. Holding hands, we passed one of the busiest buildings where a [guy] with a bunch of his [friends] whistled and called out to us, “Nice! How can I get in on this?” My girlfriend, who was hiding her sexuality from her family at the time, was always very skittish and pulled my hand to signal an escape, but I called back, “Lucky for us, you can’t.” This pissed the guy off and he tapped a few of his friends on the shoulders and they began to approach us. At this point, about four large high school boys came towards my girlfriend and I. I could feel my heart rate skyrocket. The one who I told off continued, “Whatever. You’re just a fat, ugly dyke, anyway.” They all laughed and I could totally see one hungrily staring at my girlfriend. I pulled her closer and we walked home without another word, but that didn’t stop them from shouting at us across the block, calling us dykes and sluts.”
Students in New York City come from diverse backgrounds. Aspects of students’ identities such as race, nationality, religion, gender, sexuality, ability, size, etc. can mean harassment is experienced by people in different ways. Street harassment disproportionately affects marginalized communities, including women, LGBTQ-identified individuals, people of color, and lower income individuals due to larger societal discrimination and unequal access to power. To effectively and collectively combat street harassment, we need to better understand what it looks like and feels like for different people. What is street harassment like for a young Latina girl who has recently immigrated to the United States? A transgender male of color? An African American girl? There is never one answer. Instead, we look to the many voices and stories that help us see street harassment through a lens that we cannot always access on our own.
To understand what discrimination and oppression feels and looks like for the people around us, it is important to examine our own identities. How do you self identify? What identities do you have that are visible, and what identities do you have that are invisible? For example do you identify as female, queer, bisexual, and/or gender non-conforming? Are you a person of color and/or from an immigrant family? Are you of European descent? Do you identify with a particular religion? Is English your second or third language? Did you grow up in an urban center or a rural area? All of this shapes how we walk through public space and how we are treated. Take some time to think about how your identities inform how you walk through public space and how you are treated when you walk to work or school, go out with your friends or ride the subway. Have you been harassed in public space? What did it look like or feel like for you?
Go a little further and try to imagine how other people’s overlapping identities inform how they walk through public space. What might it feel like for them? How might experiences of discrimination or harassment impact or shape that person’s sense of self? If/when harassed, how do threat levels differ from person to person? What barriers might that person face when accessing assistance and/or help? In order to keep our students safe in New York City, let us proactively try to understand what street harassment looks like for them and how they are affected by it.
For an extended discussion on this subject of intersectionality and street harassment, read through our guide #harassmentis.
Street harassment happens all over the world, including New York City. Incidents of street harassment collected by Hollaback! are mapped on our website. Although street harassment happens everywhere, the maps show us that street harassment is more likely to happen in high-density areas, such as Times Square or Soho in New York City. It makes sense, wherever there are more people, street harassment is more likely to occur, especially in a world where it is so common. It happens not only on the streets but in any public space, including around shops and schools, waiting for the school bus and on public transport. On public transport, the more overtly physical types of harassment are more common, especially since it is an enclosed space. Each person’s feelings of safety and ability to respond to street harassment are determined by the location in which they experienced it. For example, if someone is being harassed by a person in a car while walking to school, they may be able to make a phone call to a parent or to the school to let them know if they are feeling endangered. However, if a student is riding the subway and someone brushes up against them, they may hesitate to respond immediately because they are on a moving train and may feel trapped. A safer alternative might be to alert an MTA worker or the police once they get off at their stop.
Street harassment impacts students emotionally and psychologically. In middle and high school, young people are already dealing with a series of physical and mental changes. Facing street harassment when walking the streets of New York City can make those years even more difficult, causing young people to feel frightened, threatened, uneasy and unsafe in their own neighborhoods and in their own skin.
Research shows that the effects of street harassment on an individual are very similar to the effects of other forms of violence, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and workplace sexual harassment. One of the key differences with regard to street harassment is the fact that it is not considered as serious as other forms of violence, making people feel that they are overreacting to their experiences or that their overall discomfort and fears regarding harassment are unfounded. The feelings of isolation and alienation caused by this can lead to a sense of self-doubt, low self-esteem and/or self worth.
This could leave a young person wondering, ‘why am I always the one targeted?’ or ‘does this happen to anyone else?’ Street harassment reduces an individual’s feeling of overall safety, impacting their mobility throughout public spaces. This includes the use of public transportation, a method heavily relied upon by students to get to and from school in New York City. Street harassment may make them question what they wear; where they walk; at what time of the day they go out; and if they should go out alone or if they should go out at all. All of this can also affect a student’s ability to concentrate in class. If they are being harassed to and from school, the thought of getting back home can cause stress and anxiety over the course of the day. Similarly, if a student is harassed on the way to school, it can hugely impact how they face the school day and can prevent them from wanting to go to school at all.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, “[s]exual harassment often has a serious and negative impact on women’s physical and emotional health, and the more severe the harassment, the more severe the reaction.” Short-term and long-term effects of street harassment frequently reported include:
-weight loss or gain
-loss of appetite
Researchers have also found that there is a link between sexual harassment and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Within a sample of 223 stories of street harassment taken from the Hollaback! website, the Worker Institute at Cornell ILR found that those who reported their story had emotional responses to the harassment, including anger, fear, surprise and helplessness. The report also states, “The anecdotes that we reviewed indicated that the severity of one’s emotional reaction to an experience of street harassment varied, but that any type of harassment (i.e. verbal, groping, assault) could produce extreme feelings of fear, anger, shame, etc. This indicates that it may be the violation of being harassed, rather than the specific behavior, that is one of the main drivers of a target’s emotional response. Thus an ‘outsider’ might deem the situation ‘minor’ or ‘not a threat’ but the reaction of the target is likely to be just as severe because of the experience of vulnerability and the latent threat of escalation.”
In the case that a student inquires about how they can respond to street harassment directly, here are a few strategies. While everyone is vulnerable to stranger rape and sexual assault, studies show that those who are aware of their surroundings, walk with confidence and, if harassed, respond assertively, are less vulnerable. First, it is important to know that you do not deserve to be harassed. Also, there is no right or wrong way to respond, and it is completely up to the individual to determine if they feel comfortable enough to respond at that particular moment. For example, if someone is harassed walking home at night, they may want to keep moving, whereas if there are other people around, they may feel more comfortable to say or do something. Bottom line is that safety comes first. Upon deciding to photograph a harasser using the Hollaback! app, you may consider doing so substantially after the initial encounter and from a distance, ensuring the harasser is unaware of your actions. It is also up to the individual to determine if they want to place a report with the police. Here are some tips:
• Decide if you would like to respond. It’s OK if you don’t.
• If you respond verbally, be firm. For example: “What you just said to me is
• Use strong body language. For example, make direct eye contact.
• If they respond, do not engage in conversation. Keep moving.
• Tell friends and family what happened.
• Post your story using the Hollaback! app (available on iPhone and Android) or online at ihollaback.org.
• Alert an authority figure, such as a teacher or school administrator.
• File a complaint to police, or create a distraction by pretending you are calling the police.
Here’s a quick guide on how to use the Hollaback! app on the Iphone and Android platforms.
When you open the app, you’ll be asked to select a language, your location, and for your email address. Here’s what the page looks like:
Set Language. The app is available in 9 languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Turkish, Czech, Dutch and Polish. If you are interested in volunteering to help us translate the app into additional languages, please reach out!
Your local Hollaback. We operate in over 70 cities in over 20 countries, and we’re growing. If there is no Hollaback in your city, select “No Hollaback in my city.”
Email. Your email address will not be shared with anyone, ever.
Next, select “done” to move to the menu. If you want to change any of this information at a later date, you can change it by selecting the “Settings” button on the menu.
Once you’re on the menu, you’ll see seven buttons: Share your Story, Map, Donate, About, Settings, Resources, and Know Your Rights. To share your story, click on the Share Your Story button. The first section of questions are the same questions Hollaback! asks no matter what city you’re in. All of this information is optional, so share only the parts you feel comfortable sharing:
I experienced this/I saw this (select one).
Type. This question is about the type of harassment you experienced, and you can choose multiple types. Options include verbal, stalking, homophobic, transphobic, assault, groping, racist, public masturbation, and other.
Name. You can also submit under a chosen name, handle, or pseudonym. If you submit your full name we will not publish your last name on nyc.ihollaback.org to protect your identity.
Your Story. You’re invited to include a narrative with as much or as little information as you want. Please keep in mind our anti-discrimination policy when writing, as we do not publish race or class identifiers.
Upload photo. This can be of the harasser, but oftentimes people upload a photo of the scene including a street sign, your shoes, or a passing car. We encourage you to be creative.
Location of incident. You can use GPS or manually input the address.
Next, you’ll be asked if you want to share your story with the NYC Council. If you choose “no,” none of the information you input above will be sent to them. If you choose “yes” a report will be sent to the Council Member in the district in which you were harassed, as well as to the Council as a whole once you click “Submit.” If you choose “yes,” you’ll be prompted to answer additional, optional questions including:
Orientation. Options include: Straight, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Other.
Gender Identity/Expression. Options include: Male, Female, Transgender (Male to Female), Transgender (Female to Male), and Other.
Race/Ethnicity. Options include: Hispanic or Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander or White.
Incident locations. This question is designed to help us better figure out where these incidents are happening. Options include: Park, School, Construction, Subway, Bus, Ferry, Taxi, Street, Retail, and Other. Based on this information, if we see for example that most incidents are happening in parks, we can work with the department of parks to develop preventative measures. Here are examples of policy recommendations that we encourage: http://www.ihollaback.org/resources/policy-recommendations/
Reports made. Here we want to know if you have reported this incident through other outlets. Options include: 911, 311, Station Agent/Driver, or Other.
In addition to the option to share your story, the app includes a Map; here you can see incidents of harassment marked with pink dots and incidents of bystander intervention mapped in green dots. You also find a resources section, where you can learn more about how to respond to harassment and be a better bystander, as well as a list of local NYC-based organizations that can help including the Ali Forney Center, the Center for Anti-Violence Education (CAE), Legal Momentum, Metropolitan Hospital Victims Assistance and Counseling Program, NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault, Queerocracy, Right Rides, Safe Horizons, STEPS to End Family Violence, Turning Point for Women and Families, CONNECT, and New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP). If you have suggestions of other resources we can include, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lastly, you’ll find a Know Your Rights section of the app where you can get more information on how to report your incident to the NYPD should you choose to.
When individuals face street harassment, they may not always feel comfortable enough to confront the harasser directly. Therefore, building a community of active bystanders is important to creating safer streets for everyone.
Our research with Cornell shows that when bystanders intervene, the harassment is more likely to stop. Hollaback! has been working in partnership with Green Dot (www.livethegreendot.com), an organization working to end power-based personal violence, on a campaign called “I’ve Got Your Back”, which encourages bystanders to share their stories of effectively intervening in situations of street harassment. Their stories are shared and mapped on our website with green dots. For every pink dot representing a situation of street harassment, we hope to have a green dot showing someone who intervened and helped. The idea behind the green dots is that everyone can play an active and positive bystander role in responding to harassment and other forms of power-based personal violence, and the way to do this is by using one of the 4 Ds: direct action, delegation, distraction or delay.
Direct Action – As a bystander, you can directly intervene when you see a situation of street harassment by confronting the situation head on. For example, you can ask the harasser to stop bothering the person she/he is targeting.
Distraction – A bystander can take an indirect approach to intervening. For example, if you notice someone being harassed, you can approach her/him to ask for directions or say ‘hello’ as if you know them, thus de-escalating that situation.
Delegation – This is when you seek outside assistance to intervene in the situation. For example, a bystander can seek help or assistance from the police, a public transport worker or another outside party on behalf of the victim/target.
Delay – This is when you wait for the situation to pass and you check in with the person who was targeted to make sure that they are okay. Even if you were unable to intervene at the time, checking in later makes a difference to the person who was harassed.
To read the full Cornell Report, follow this link
There are policies, programs and/or laws in place on the federal, New York state and New York City-wide level that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education and/or promotes harassment, intimidation and bullying-free school environments. The following are descriptions of the federally mandated Title IX; New York State policy, Dignity for All; and New York City-wide program, Respect for All.
Federal Law – Title IX
According to the organization Know Your IX, “Title IX a landmark federal civil right that prohibits sex discrimination in education.Title IX is not just about sports; it is a prohibition against sex-based discrimination in education. It addresses discrimination against pregnant and parenting students and women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs. It also addresses sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination and sexual violence. Sexual violence includes attempted or completed rape or sexual assault, as well as sexual harassment, stalking, voyeurism, exhibitionism, verbal or physical sexuality-based threats or abuse, and intimate partner violence.”
Follow this link for more information on Title IX:
New York State Law – Dignity for All
From the New York State Education Department: “New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act (The Dignity Act) seeks to provide the State’s public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying on school property, a school bus and/or at a school function. The Dignity Act was signed into law on September 13, 2010 and took effect on July 1, 2012.”
Follow this link for more information:
New York City Law – Respect for All
From the New York City Department of Education: “The NYC DOE is committed to maintaining a safe and supportive learning environment that is free from harassment, intimidation and/or bullying and from discrimination based on actual or perceived race, color, citizenship/immigration status, religion, creed, national origin, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, or weight.”
“The NYC DOE launched the citywide Respect For All program in 2007 to build the capacity of staff and students to actively promote a community of inclusion in each of our schools.
The seeds of Respect For All (RFA) were sown in the aftermath of 9/11, when the NYC DOE began a concerted citywide effort to promote respect for diversity and combat harassment, discrimination and bullying. This initiative provided professional development for K-12 school staff, as well as direct services to students. The goal of this work is to ensure that every NYC school provides a learning environment where all children feel safe, valued and respected.”
Follow this link for more information:
Put our poster up in your school
Distribute our pamphlet
Share Hollaback! Philly’s Comic Book with your students and have a discussion
Talk about bystander intervention and distribute our infographic
Show a video and have a discussion about street harassment
Create an anti-street harassment themed bulletin board
Get a dry erase board and do a photo project asking why street harassment matters to your students (ex. http://harassment-is.tumblr.com)
Make anti-street harassment signs to put up around the school or in the classroom
Hold a discussion group around the issue of street harassment using stories from the Hollaback NYC blog.
Have a discussion around a case study
Collect students’ stories of street harassment for the Hollaback! website (they can be anonymous)
Read through our intersectionality guide and facilitate a conversation about identity and street harassment and have students join the discussion of what #harassmentis to them or post a photo on our #harassmentis Tumblr (http://harassment-is.tumblr.com).
Organize a community or school safety audit. Here’s a How-To Guide. http://www.ihollaback.org/how-to-lead-a-community-safety-audit/
Have students write letters to their local council member about how street harassment affects them
Invite Hollaback! to deliver a workshop in your classroom or a talk in your school
Hollaback!, founded in 2005 by seven young adults in New York City, is a movement to end street harassment using online technology, mobile devices, on-the-ground activism and organizing. With our headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, we are a global network of activists and leaders in the movement to end street harassment, based in over 70 cities, in 24 countries and in 14 different languages. Through an online platform and an App on the iPhone and Android platforms, Hollaback! has provided a space for people who experience street harassment to share and map their stories and their responses to it from anywhere in the world.
Through Hollaback!’s original method of collecting stories through a blogging platform, we have gathered 5,000 (and growing) accounts of street harassment, not only showing the prevalence of this problem but also creating a case that these acts fall within the spectrum of gender-based violence and are a gateway crime that can escalate into other forms of sexual assault and violence. Hollaback! believes that everybody should have the right to feel safe on the streets and in all public and shared spaces, without the fear of being harassed, abused or violated.
Here are a list of NYC-based organizations that have excellent resources and programs for teens on issues including street harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, stalking and other forms of gender-based violence.
STEPS to End Family Violence
Address: 151 Lawrence Street, 5th Floor
Brooklyn, New York 11201
List of programs for teens:
Girls for Gender Equity
Address: 30 3rd Avenue, Suite 103
Brooklyn, NY 11217
List of programs for teens:
Sisters In Strength
The Coalition for Gender Equity in Schools (CGES)
New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault
New York, NY 10004
Phone: (212) 229-0345
List of programs for teens:
The Youth Action Council (YAC)
Sadie Nash Leadership Project
Address:4 West 43rd Street, Suite 502
New York, New York 10036
List of programs for teens:
Two-year Leadership Program
ELLA (engage, learn, lead, act)
Sadie Nash Partnership Program
Sadie Nash Newark
Center for Anti-Violence Education
Address: 327 7th St # 2, Brooklyn, NY 11215
Phone: (718) 788-1775
List of programs for teens:
United Nations Foundation – Girl Up!
Address: 801 Second Ave
New York, NY 10017
List of programs for teens: