When it comes to policy, we at Hollaback! recommend strategies that encourage education, prevention, and reporting. We do not recommend strategies that increase criminalization.
We do not endorse increasing the criminalization of harassment for several reasons. First, we see harassment as a symptom of big societal challenges like sexism, racism, homophobia, etc — not the result of a “few bad eggs.” As such, a criminalization approach starts to feel more like playing ‘whack-a-mole” than like meaningful change. We’ve heard time and time again from communities that experience harassment most — i.e. young people, LBGTQ+ individuals, people of color, immigrants, etc — that they feel less safe with police present after harassment happens due to their history of police brutality and related practices. Furthermore, we too often see criminal laws disproportionately applied to people of color, low-income individuals, and trans and gender-nonconforming people.
We recommend that policymakers invest in these solutions to combat harassment:
Bystander education is a well-researched best practice for addressing violence. According to research, bystanders are more likely to take action when a) they have empathy for the people experiencing violence and b) when they are familiar with a range of options for how to intervene.
On public transit and in public space, we recommend bystander ads, such as the ones developed in DC, Philadelphia and Louisville, be the standard for anti-harassment public service announcements. We also recommend that the ads direct people to additional resources, including bystander tips, places to report, and information on legal rights. To compliment this campaign, we recommend development of a flyer and other related materials that can be distributed at subway stations, and information on what to do if you experience harassment printed on the leaflets attached to student metrocards, and included in new student packets.
Bystander intervention training should also be implemented at the middle and high school levels. If your school is interested in training, please reach out to us at [email protected]ck.org. We offer discounted training to schools and when grant-funding allows also provide free training to at-risk groups.
Improve RESEARCH AND reporting systems.
Many people worry that they won’t be taken seriously if they report their harassment to the police, and there are significant questions about which behaviors are illegal and which aren’t.
To overcome this, we recommend an online reporting platform that would allow people to anonymously share their story with Hollaback! or another nonprofit organization.
From there, the user could opt into sending the report to other agencies, i.e. the local Commission on Human Rights, City Council, or Police with the touch of the button. This would allow people the ability to only share their story once, to have their story protected by a trusted nonprofit, and to opt into other reporting options — but not feel like they were necessary. Research with Hollaback! shows that the act of sharing your story reduces trauma and support healing long-term for victims of harassment. This would give you all great data while not compromising the safety and security of people who aren’t willing/don’t feel safe reporting. The nonprofit could then release these statistics to the public in an annual report, broken out along subway/bus station and line. This was tested implimented using Hollaback!’s App in New York City.
To give a broader scope of the problem of harassment, self-reporting should be paired with population-wide surveys, and questions on the prevalence and impact of harassment into existing measures, such as the Department of Health’s annual Community Health Survey. We also recommend invest in in-depth research on the impact of harassment on community members’ decisions related to work, housing, education.
Training for police and transit officers.
A number of women and LBGTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer) folks report insensitivity when they have tried to report the incident or seek help, including refusal to file a report. To overcome this issue we recommend training transit workers and the police in what harassment looks like, current processes, and how to appropriately respond to someone who experienced it.
Hollaback! has trained the New York City Police Department and the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (Tri-MET). For information on trainings, email [email protected]
Community Safety Audits
Community safety audits are a way to create safer cities and communities. A safety audit can be used as a tool to bring attention to harassment and violence in public spaces. In a safety audit, individuals come together to walk through a physical environment, evaluate how safe it feels to them, identify ways to make the space safer, and organize to bring about those changes.
Engage and train local businesses
People who experience harassment on the street will often duck into storefronts for safety. Those employees should be trained in how to support people fleeing situations of harassment. Campaigns should be considered that allow businesses to put a sticker on their front door after they are trained to signal to others that they are a “safe space.” This could drive business while building a sense of community care. Our team at Hollaback! London created The Good Night Out campaign to train restaurant, bar, and nightlife owners how to respond when they witnessed harassment and our team from Hollaback! Baltimore established the Safer Spaces campaign to do similar work in the US.
Resources FOR FURTHER READING:
- Online Harassment: A Comparative Policy Analysis for Hollaback [pdf] :This 2016 report was created to record and analyze how governments across Australia, Canada, UK and USA have attempted to prevent online harassment, and how they have engaged with companies and platforms where it is happening.