Verbally Harassed On Your Walk Home?: There’s An App For That

by Alanna Vagianos

I walk a good 25 minutes to work every morning and a good 35 minutes (I’m a bit slower by the end of the day) from work every evening.  Although the 1-1½ mile commute to and from Port Authority is a bit long, I initially didn’t think I would mind the walk.  I could get a little fresh air and some much-needed cardio. 

After my first day of work I was absolutely exhausted.  Besides the whole working part, I couldn’t figure out why I was so unbelievably tired.  The next morning I got off the Shortline bus and started walking downtown to my office when an older man walked right up to me, grumbled “Nice ass”, and proceeded on his way.  First off, I hadn’t even walked by yet – he literally could not see my ass.  Second (and more importantly), I realized why I had been so tired the day before: walking to work is like stepping into the ring with Muhammad Ali except instead of dodging punches I’m dodging creepy pick up lines and stares that follow me around the block. 

While this was a somewhat new realization for me, the topic of street harassment has been on the table for a very long time.  In 2005 Emily May co-founded the anti-street harassment nonprofit creatively named Hollaback!. May wanted to highlight the unwanted attention that women and members of the LGBTQ community face every day that we’re expected to simply ignore.

The Hollaback! app was originally created in 2010 but has recently been updated to work as a street harassment reporting tool.  Hollaback! helps users report unwanted encounters of street harassment by monitoring incidents in real time and submitting them to their district’s CouncilStat.  The app allows you to access “Resources” or “Know Your Rights” and also includes a map that illustrates clusters of previous street harassment incidents.  Users can also plot their location via GPS, describing the area and type of location (i.e. school, business), enter demographic information (i.e. race, gender), and even attach a picture of the incident they experienced or witnessed.


If you’ve ever walked through really any city I bet you’ve been subjected to or witnessed some type of street harassment. Verbal harassment – the most common form of street harassment – usually goes unpunished, allowing it to take place all the time.  While punishment is a grey area in this forum, Cornell professor Cynthia Grant Bowman advocates for some kind of legal deterrent in order to prevent these negative experiences. In a phone interview with The Atlantic, Bowman stated, “There are kinds of things that are drip, drip, drip persistent – not cutting or injuring you – but persistently denigrating behavior that can feel bad and be scary.”

When the app first came out last year, the New York Daily News criticized the use of “public money to advance the [private] cause” and stated that city residents should just call 911.  Other criticisms include that the app may actually have an opposite affect by allowing women to subconsciously censor where they walk.  Mariame Kaba, the director of NIA (a Chicago-based advocacy group that presents alternative ways to handling crime), stated, “I think our frame is wrong. The point is to make harassment culturally unacceptable, and not treat other people this way. That’s a lot of hard work that may involve community accountability circles, or restorative justice, but it should be any number of things before a law enforcement approach.” 

What do you think? Would you download Hollaback!? Let us know in the comments section. 


Thanks to The Atlantic and Hollaback!

Images via Stop Street Harassment, ECards, and The Guardian


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