Documenting street harassment on maps

Does street harassment really happen that often? Doesn’t it just happen in big cities? Doesn’t it just happen in “bad” neighborhoods?

Maps are an easy way to help SHOW that street harassment happens all the time and everywhere. Do you want to help raise awareness about street harassment? Consider doing so with maps.

1. When you share your street harassment stories for this blog, add the location so I can add it to my Global Street Harassment Map. You can do the same if you live in Washington, DC, and submit a story to HollaBack DC!

2. Donate to Hollaback NYC’s Kickstart initiative to launch a phone app that will allow anyone to map their street harassment incident in real time (they have until May 28 to raise $12k – please help now!).

3. Create your own map of street harassment incidents, just as the two women I will profile next have done.

Hannah’s and Valerie’s Street Harassment Maps

First up is Hannah, a cinema student at the University of Iowa who recently created her own street harassment map. I asked her a few questions about it.

Regarding the impact of street harassment on her life, she said,

“Street harassment, both what’s happened to me and what’s happened to other people, makes me afraid to walk down the street. I dress in a certain way to try to avoid it, though I think my map proves how ineffective that is. I also take certain routes, like avoiding downtown if at all possible, simply to avoid being harassed.”

As to why she created her own map, she told me:

“I think it’s really interesting how many things have happened to me, personally, and I feel that what has happened to me has largely been different from what people typically associate with street harassment. I feel like the myth is that women who dress ‘provocatively’ and/or are really pretty are the only people who are harassed. I’m evidence to the contrary. I’m pretty plain – I’m curvy, too, and a little overweight on top of that – and I like to dress comfortably, which for me is in loose-fitting clothing that covers my knees and my upper arms. I don’t like to show a lot of skin, and I don’t wear tight clothes. Another common misconception is that street harassment only comes from, say, construction crews, or truck drivers, men like that. I’ve never been harassed by a construction worker OR a truck driver. Plus I also think that people believe that street harassment only happens in big cities, which Iowa City (thought I love it) certainly is not. I guess the short answer is that I wanted to debunk myths and raise awareness.”

She has found that her map creates opportunities for very helpful discussions, but that she’s also had people tell her she is “getting worked up over nothing.” She plans to add every single incident that happens to her to the map, and that “I hope more than anything that I don’t have to add to it, but realistically I know that’s probably not going to be the case.”

Next up is Valerie Aurora, a software programmer and writer in San Francisco, who created her street harassment map a few years ago.

Street harassment has a similar impact on her life as it does on Hannah’s:

“I have very carefully researched routes to and from places I visit that have the lowest rate of harassment and I take those religiously. I just don’t take certain BART stations (like 16th and Mission) because they are so surrounded by people who harass me and instead take longer routes.  I always sit near the driver on the bus or train. I take taxis if I’m out after 9pm at night – night buses are hell. Getting harassed pretty much ruins my day and reduces me to a 10-year-old level of emotion for several hours.”

Why did she start her map?

“Initially, it was because very few people believed me when I told them about what was happening to me.  I wanted to prove that my reality existed – people were so disbelieving that I began to wonder if I were making it all up somehow.  Then I realized that I felt much better when I had something to do when someone harassed me.  I’d pull out my notebook and note down the time and place and what happened, and that distracted me enough that I’d only feel a little bit scared and bad. It was my way to prove that what was happening was really happening, and to get a little control back.”

Her map is having an impact. She said that some people who view it say, “Wow, I had no idea it was so bad!”  and some others question whether individual incidents were really harassment.  “Most people,” she notes, “are shocked.”

When I asked her about her plans going forward, she told me:

“I quit adding to this one after a while because I got used to it and I no longer cared whether my friends believed me or not – I knew it was happening, and that was all the reality I needed.  But writing this has reminded me of the good parts of keeping the map.  I may start doing it again, but keeping it on Global Street Harassment Map instead. And if the Hollaback iPhone app becomes a reality, then hell yeah, I’ll keep updating it.”

What would your map look like if you documented all of your street harassment experiences?


One Response to Documenting street harassment on maps

  1. Golden Silence says:

    I love these maps! They’re very detail-oriented. It’s sad that you had to go to that length to prove the frequency of your harassment, and that your family and friends didn’t just take your word for it.

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