#OurStreets: Hollaback!’s Collaborative Letter Regarding the NYE Cologne Attacks

Hollaback! is a movement to end harassment powered by a network of local activists. We work together to better understand harassment, raise awareness, and provide community-based solutions. We are coming together as a global community to publicly critique the discriminatory and offensive media coverage surrounding the attacks in Cologne.

 

In the face of increased public awareness and media attention in Europe as a result of the attacks in Cologne mostly, but from other German cities as well, it is important to take this moment to dismantle the harmful myths that circulate around street harassment and reaffirm the right to safe and equal public spaces for all.

 

Street harassment – “catcalling,” discriminatory/hate speech, groping, public masturbation, and stalking – is an everyday fact of life for many women, LGBTQ individuals, and people of color. According to research from Cornell University, it can cause depression, anger, and fear. Street harassment limits our access to free and equal public spaces and reiterates existing power imbalances.

 

We support the individuals who have been the targets of this violence and street harassment – both in the recent attacks and throughout history. We hear you and we believe you.

 

However, we are disappointed and offended by how many media outlets are portraying the street harassment that occurred on New Year’s Eve in Cologne as a new phenomenon imported by “foreigners or migrants,” when the reality is that street harassment is an ongoing and pervasive issue: one that affects women, LGBTQ individuals, and people of color the world over. Street harassment is not a new problem. To report about street harassment as if it was nonexistent before one highly publicized incident, or as if it is only an act perpetrated by migrants is incredibly problematic and frankly, wrong. Hollaback! has been collecting data on harassment worldwide for over ten years. To date, we have received over 9,000 stories of street harassment from around the world. That data is made available to the public through our websites and app, as well as through publications such as “Harassment Is: An exploration of identity and street harassment.” The data shows that street harassment is most prevalent in high-traffic areas, including public transportation and subway systems. Street harassment does not belong to a specific social category. As we’ve seen from the stories of harassment that we collect daily and from the emerging research, individuals who harass come from all racial and class backgrounds. Rather, street harassment is made possible by a society of inequality that determines the freedom of some to movement and safety, leading to unequal access to public spaces.

 

We refuse to allow an increased awareness of street harassment to be used as a tool for racist and xenophobic policies. What has to be reaffirmed throughout the narrative is the lack of freedoms of women, LGBTQ individuals, and people of color in public space.

 

Just last year, Hollaback! held the largest ever global survey on street harassment with Cornell University. We found that over 84 percent of women globally had been harassed before the age of 18, and that over half of individuals responding reported being groped or fondled without their consent in the last year alone. What’s more, according to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Human Rights survey of 42,000 women throughout the EU, over 55% have experienced some form of sexual harassment since the age of 15. In Germany, where the events took place:

  • 85% of German women reported their first experience with street harassment before age 17
  • 66% of German women have been groped or fondled in the past year
  • 70% have been followed by a man or a group of men in a way that made them feel unsafe during the past year
  • 14% of German women have experienced this frightening behavior more than 5 times
  • Over half of respondents noted that they took a different route or transportation, completely avoided an area, changed the time they left an event, or avoided socializing because of street harassment (or the fear of it), and
  • A small amount of respondents even noted that they resigned from their job or skipped work – or even moved cities – because of harassment.

 

What we’ve seen from the overall qualitative and quantitative research so far is that street harassment disproportionately impacts young women and girls, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. Street harassment is an expression of interlocking and overlapping oppressions. It can be sexist, racist, transphobic, ableist, sizeist and/or classist. Individuals’ experiences of street harassment must be understood within the historical context, societal prejudices, and climates of inequality that inform it. Hollaback! believes that recognizing this intersection of identities and oppressions is key to implementing lasting social change. As such, we believe it is of pivotal importance to dismantle stereotypes of harassment and question media narratives that promote inequality.

 

Our Hollaback! Berlin site writes:

 

Since NYE and the subsequent undifferentiated media coverage, there seems to be a new interest in Germany regarding sexual violence. There have to our knowledge barely been that many reports on and discussions about sexualized violence, the issue or the roots of the problem are not being discussed. Rather the attacks in Cologne and other German cities leave many questions open. Up until today it is quite unclear what exactly happened there, by whom and how was that even possible?

How can in a situation with more than 1000 people present and obviously a large police force as well, how can women be groped, abused and violated without anyone – and that includes the police – intervening?

One answer to this is that German society does not have any strategies against sexualized violence. What these events brought to light is that German society, and that includes and its members and official bodies, does not know what to do against sexualized violence. The laws are inefficient and do not protect women from violence, as pointed out by several women’s rights organizations in Germany.

The same politicians that are now pretending to care about violence against women are instrumentalizing the events to pursue a racist agenda aimed at refugees.

We as Hollaback! have been working around the issues of sexualized violence for a long time and each and every story on our blogs proves that street harassment is an everyday issue – not only in Germany. Germany has a blatant sexism problem and with the ever growing openly racist movements, German society, media and lawmakers must not only learn to deal with sexualized violence, they must understand the intersections of sexism and racism.

Completely out of focus in the overtly racist and white male dominated discourse “after” Cologne are the victims of sexualized violence. Only few reports from women who were there NYE have been published. Barely no attention is given to the situation of refugee women either. The public discourse in Germany is not interested in actually dealing with sexualized violence. As a space of empowerment and community, Hollaback! invites all people facing sexualized violence to use their power and tell their stories.

What we need is not new asylum laws, what we need are safe spaces for ALL women. An open call to end violence and an effective law enforcement and support system for victims and survivors of sexualized violence.

 

When discussing both the realities of street harassment, as well as community-led solutions to the issue, we need to recognize the facts: street harassment is an ongoing and persistent issue that often targets individuals’ identities and it occurs most often (though by no means exclusively) in high traffic areas. It is perpetuated by individuals of all backgrounds and cultures. It is by no means a “city” problem or a “Cologne” problem — it is a global problem and it affects all of us.

 

We call on the public and on the media to challenge their narratives of what street harassment is and to dismantle harmful myths that promote further discrimination and inequality. We call on the public to join us during a day of action on street harassment this February 4th to chalk walk, share our stories, and map our harassment with #ourstreets. Together, we can change the narrative and ensure safe and equal access to public spaces for all.

 

Signed:

 

  • Hollaback! Headquarters
  • Hollaback! São Paulo
  • Hollaback! London
  • Hollaback! Amsterdam
  • Hollaback! Ottawa
  • Hollaback! Czech / (Ozvi se!)
  • Hollaback! Bahamas
  • Hollaback! Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Hollaback! Dresden und Umgebung
  • Hollaback! Berlin
  • Hollaback! Edinburgh
  • Hollaback! Poland
  • Hollaback! Croatia
  • Hollaback! Italy
  • Hollaback! Vegas
  • Hollaback! Vancouver
  • Hollaback! Baltimore
  • Hollaback! Korea
  • Hollaback! Cuenca

Translations: Polish, German

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