We all know the drill: You’re walking down the street when a sketchy-looking guy and his “boys” look you up and down with their prying eyes. More often than not, sexual epithets and crude motions follow. And if you happen to be holding hands with another woman, expect anti-gay slurs to be tossed around without a second thought.
It’s no secret that street harassment is a pervasive problem across the United States. In my very own city, the Borough President’s Office reported that out of 1,790 questionnaire participants, 63 percent had been sexually harassed on a city subway. Another 10 percent had been sexually assaulted while riding a train or waiting on a platform.
That’s where Hollaback! steps in. Since 2005, the organization has been working to end street harassment, using blogs and social media as mediums to spread its empowering message. Today, the movement has active chapters in cities across the world.
Next up: college campuses.
“Campus harassment happens on rural and urban campuses, and at big and little schools,” Hollaback! Executive Director Emily May told us. “It’s happening in dining halls, dorm rooms, streets, and classrooms – and our students deserve better. Way better. Our goal is to bring Hollaback! to 10 college campuses over the next year.”
New York University is the first college to step up to the plate. Catie Brown, who also helms the campus’s feminist society, was inspired to start the NYU chapter in part because of a traumatic personal experience.
“I was walking with my roommate last year to our friend’s dorm for dinner, when I heard a man running up behind us,” Brown said. “He started telling me how good I looked, what he wanted to do to me. I ignored him, but he continued. He walked in front of us, and started demanding that I get my phone out. We kept walking, but he was still following me. The worst part was that I was too scared to just tell him to go away. He was harassing me, but I still felt the need to politely deal with his unwelcome advances. My reply sticks in my memory: ‘I’m flattered, but no thank you.’ I wasn’t flattered at all; I was freaked out.”
May explained that to prepare for the responsibility of running a Hollaback! chapter, new website moderators must attend a handful of training webinars, put together a list of press contacts, pen press releases, and connect with users via Facebook and Twitter pages. But the added workload doesn’t seem to be hindering students on campus from pitching in.
“Time and time again, our feminist society’s group discussions came back to street harassment: Every single young woman had experienced it, and every single one wanted to do something about it,” Brown said. “We’re going to be popping up all over campus this semester, getting the word out about our site and encouraging submissions. We’re also planning a fundraiser concert for the spring, and we’re always reaching out to and looking to collaborate with other campus organizations.”
Whether you’re cramming for your next big exam in your dorm room or graduated years ago, there are ways you can join the movement. May breaks down the options:
Be an awesome bystander. Data shows even a knowing glance can reduce the trauma of someone who is harassed. Read up on how you can safely intervene when you see harassment happening.
Start a Hollaback! in your city or at your university.
Be a badass and make some local action happen! Read our how-to guides for more information on how to do mud-stenciling, hold film screenings, or do a workshop on street harassment.
“When we started Hollaback I was getting harassed 3-4 times a day,” May said. “Now when I get harassed I’m semi-tempted to give them a business card and be like, ‘Do you know what I do?’”
Images courtesy of Hollaback!