History and Values

Learn about Hollaback!’s origins, evolution, and history – and the core values that guide our work.


Hollaback! started in 2005 as a conversation between seven youth (four women and three men). As the women told story after story of harassment, the men became increasingly concerned. Collectively, they resolved to change that.

Around the same time, a woman named Thao Nguyen bravely stood up to her harasser – an older, upper middle class raw-foods restaurant owner – who terrified her by masturbating across from her on the subway. She took his photo with her camera, and when the police ignored it, she posted it on flikr. The picture eventually made it to the front page of the New York Daily News, where it incited a city-wide conversation about street harassment. The seven youth were inspired by Thao’s story and decided to apply her model to all forms of harassment and to document these experiences on a public blog.


Interest in Hollaback! grew over the next five years. What began as a simple idea – a blog to collect women’s and LGBTQ+ individuals’ stories of street harassment – became part of an international movement. In 2010 Emily May, one of the original seven youth, became the organization’s first executive director. Since its inception as a nonprofit, Hollaback! witnessed a tremendous surge in interest and a rapid expansion in social, political, and cultural capital for the organization and the broader movement to end street harassment.

Since Hollaback!’s founding, its leaders have faced online harassment. At first the harassment took the form of homophobic name-calling over emails, but eventually they began receiving rape and death threats. In 2013, fed up with being harassed, and angered by the harassment they saw happening across the internet, they decided to do something. Hollaback! founded HeartMob, a platform where people facing online harassment can ask for exactly the kind of support they need, when they need it, and get it from vetted bystanders who have the tools and resources necessary to help in impactful ways.

With the addition of HeartMob, Hollaback! has articulated a broader sense of purpose. By expanding from a fixed focus on street harassment to the wider lens of access to shared and public spaces, we’re seeking equality for women and LGBTQ+ folks in all forms of public space.


These are the ideas that ground our work and our lives.

A Culture of Awesome

We believe that everyone has a right to be their most awesome self, and that the movement to end harassment in public spaces will be led like all successful movements that have come before it: by people with bold ideas who take risks to upend the status quo. We aren’t afraid of our own strength, and we aren’t afraid to wield our collective power to make the world a better place.

Making the Impossible Possible

We know a lot of people don’t take a stand against harassment because they think ending harassment is impossible. We’re not afraid to fight for something better, and we are united in our belief that a world without harassment isn’t just possible: it’s imminent.

Transparency and Honesty

Movements move at the speed of trust, and trust is earned. We recognize that honesty and transparency are a crucial part of impactful relationships in the movement. Whether you are a reader, a contributor, a funder, a legislator, a local leader, or a partner, we promise to be candid and forthright with you.

We’ve Got Your Back

Changing the world isn’t always easy. It’s scary to tell your story, and it’s scary to lead a movement that defies longstanding norms. When times get tough, we stand together. Our work also involves a lot of learning and self-reflection. We embrace others’ perspectives, see debate as a learning opportunity, and we’re humble enough to know there’s always room for improvement. We treat each other with respect and compassion.

Unapologetically Intersectional

We will not fight harassment at the expense of other movements. We are flamboyantly anti-racist, anti-classist, anti-ableist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic, and anti- any other form of discrimination that is designed to keep people “in their place.” We recognize the danger of intersecting oppressions, and we believe in the power of intersectional justice. We seek to understand harassment from every possible perspective, and seek to represent our movement with a wide and diverse constituency.

Followers Are the New Leaders

It’s not the leaders alone who build movements – it’s the followers. We are committed to supporting followers to become new leaders, who can then turn their followers into new leaders, and so on and so forth until harassment in public spaces is history.

Organizational Timeline


  • Hollaback! begins as an online blog, started by seven friends after experiencing street harassment; the blog gains notoriety online as individuals begin sharing their stories of street harassment in record numbers


  • Hollaback! becomes a nonprofit and appoints Emily May as executive director
  • Hollaback! begins to train site leaders globally
  • Hollaback! launches free iPhone and Android apps, allowing individuals to share their stories of street harassment as they happen


  • Green Mountain Coffee names Hollaback! a finalist in the “Revelation to Action” competition
  • Emily May receives an Ashoka “ChangemakHERS” award
  • Women’s eNews names Emily May one of  “21 leaders for the 21st Century”
  • Hollaback!, in partnership with Green Dot, launches bystander intervention training, becoming the first organization to develop workshops and trainings for bystanders responding to public harassment


  • Hollaback! receives the TED City 2.0 prize for its app partnership with the New York City Government; they term it “an idea on which our planet’s future depends”
  • Hollaback! is a finalist in the Ashoka’s “She Will Innovate” competition
  • Huffington Post names Emily May one of 20 Women “Leading the Way”
  • Hollaback! wins the Manhattan Young Democrats “Engendering Progress” award


  • Daily Muse names Hollaback!’s executive director Emily May one of “50 Fearless Minds Changing the World”
  • USA Today lists Hollaback! among “4 free apps that could help prevent sexual assault”
  • Hollaback! holds the first ever international speaker’s series on street harassment, HOLLA::Revolution
  • Hollaback! relaunches apps to allow for direct reporting to the council member in the districts where harassment occurred (in NYC)


  • CNN names Hollaback! a top safety apps
  • Hollaback!’s executive director Emily May is named an Ashoka Fellow
  • Hollaback!’s executive director Emily May is named a Prime Movers Fellow


  • Hollaback! develops and pilots HeartMob, the first platform to provide real-time support to individuals who are experiencing online harassment
  • The New York Times endorses HeartMob
  • Hollaback! holds HOLLA::Revolution in London, UK for a sold-out crowd
  • Hollaback! is awarded a residency at the Bellagio Institute, bringing together 21 global organizations leading on street harassment; together, the group develops shared international goals for ending street harassment


  • Netroots Nation awards HeartMob with “Best New Product”
  • HeartMob wins the Civic Hall Healthy Public Challenge
  • Hollaback! redoubles our bystander intervention trainings in the wake of the 2016 US presidential election, including an online webinar element, with a focus on the increase in hate incidences locally and throughout the United States


  • Hollaback! trains over 2700 people on the Five D’s of Bystander Intervention
  • HeartMob launches digital trainings on the Five D’s of Bystander Intervention, adapted to address online harassment
  • HeartMob releases the HeartBot, a new tool that logs private reports of abuse on Twitter, replies to harassers with a disincentive, and keeps everyone else out of it
  • In partnership with the Southern Poverty Law Center, Hollaback! develops extensive train the trainer models to scale the work
  • Hollaback! collaborates with The Dinner Party and Faith Matters Network to launch #100Days100Dinners, a project aiming to repair relationships in the US strained and ruptured in the current political climate; the collaboration evolves into The People’s Supper, reaching over 1500 people in 58 cities with 264 suppers
  • Hollaback! partners with Communities Against Hate, a national initiative and collaboration to collect data and respond to incidences of violence, threats, and property damage motivated by hate around the United States
  • Hollaback!’s executive director Emily May is a finalist for the 2017 American Express Leadership Academy Alumni Award, recognizing an Academy alumn who consistently demonstrates strong leadership while significantly impacting their community


  • Hollaback! trains over 5700 people on Bystander and Sexual Harassment training
  • Hollaback! expands its bystander intervention trainings to address sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Hollaback! joins the first lady of NYC, Chirlane McCray with several organizations to organize a rally in support of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and all sexual assault survivors
  • Hollaback! collaborates with The People’s Supper to host five large-scale suppers in different cities across the country, and issue a guidebook to create spaces to have meaningful conversations together
  • Hollaback! partners with Communities Against Hate, a national initiative and collaboration to collect data and respond to incidences of violence, threats, and property damage motivated by hate around the United States