Hooray! Anti-Street Harassment Successes of 2010

December 31, 2010

This was a big year for anti-street harassment activism! I spent a few hours this morning reflecting on it all and I am amazed. Thank you to the thousands of people who are tackling this issue around the world, including by sharing your stories. You are making a difference.

In this (lengthy) post, I’m highlighting some of the heroes who stood up to harassers, a few of the substantial societal shift successes, several new anti-harassment campaigns, various creative initiatives to raise awareness about street harassment, and more.

And I want to note that it was a big year for me personally: I passed the two-year mark for my blog in May, my book Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women came out in August, numerous articles I wrote were published (including on the Huffington Post, Forbes.com, and Guardian), and over the last few months I’ve been able to give talks across the country. I look forward to finding out what 2011 will bring.

Women Who Fought Back!

There were so many amazing stories this year about women who would not stay silence and spoke out against their harassers! Here are just a few of them.

  • Lisa Robinson stopped a train in Wales by stepping into the tracks when the conductor wouldn’t deal with harassers on board
  • Nicola Briggs shouted down her subway harasser in New York City and got him arrested and now is giving tips to other women on how to deal with their harassers
  • Annie Jiang took a cell phone photo of a man who masturbated against her on the subway on her way to school. The next day, because of her photo, police were able to arrest him.
  • Jen Corey, Miss DC 2009, stood up to harassers at a bar in Georgetown and, when the story made the local news, she used the media attention to speak out against street harassment.

And these are a sampling of the stories women submitted to my blog about standing up to their harassers:

Men Who Did Something:

I received a few stories this year from male bystanders who took action to interrupt or stop a harassment incident. Good for them!

Big Successes:

This was a really big year for concrete outcomes in the quest to make street harassment socially unacceptable, with action occuring in the UK, Egypt, Mauritius, USA, and internationally via the United Nations.

  • In February, UNIFEM released a 200+ page booklet on how to create safe cities for women, which in part addressed the problem of street harassment. In November, they launched the Safe Cities Programme in five cities around the world!
  • Also in February, an anti-sexual harassment law (that would include public spaces) was presented to the legislative affairs committee of the Egyptian Parliament.
  • In September, Oona King & Ken Livingstone, two candidates for mayor in London, put street harassment on their platform! This was thanks to the work of the UK Anti-Street Harassment Campaign!
  • In September, Independence, Missouri, passed a new ordinance making it illegal for people to harass pedestrians and cyclists from their vehicles!
  • Also in September, the Mauritian Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare Minister, Ms. Sheilabai Bappoo, released a booklet titled “Breaking the Silence on Sexual Harassment in Public Transport,” to encourage women to speak out and for people to help women who are most vulnerable to this violence (such as young or poor women who must take public transportation).
  • An op-ed that journalist Elizabeth Mendez Berry wrote in the fall of 2010 led to the first ever city council hearing on street harassment in New York City in late October! Now the city is pursuing the first ever city-wide street harassment study. More than 200 media outlets covered the story.
  • In November, phone tools came out that allow people to report street harassers. The two tools are the HollaBack phone app and HarassMap in Egypt. Hundreds of media outlets covered these stories.
  • In Egypt, right now you can go to a movie theater and watch a film that addresses street harassment!

New Campaigns:

Illustrating the global scope of this problem, several new anti-street harassment campaigns started in countries like the UK, Jordan, Yemen, and Bangladesh.

Creative Initiatives:

I loved all the creativity this year in address street harassment and raising awareness on and offline about its pervasiveness and unacceptability.

Presentations and Talks:

While a lot of the work that I and HollaBack folks do is online, we were able to get offline quite a bit this year to talk to people about street harassment and give presentations at major conferences.

Harassed during a December run

December 30, 2010

Yesterday I worked from home and in addition to getting 2.5 hours of my life back since I had no commute, I was able to take my dogs running while it was still daylight.

I moved to a lovely area for runners a few months ago. There are so many paved trails through woods and around two lakes that I rarely have to cross roads and I have not yet encountered harassers on my runs. Until yesterday.

Near the end of our run, my dogs and I crossed the only road on our route. After we crossed and as we were turning a corner, some guys wolf whistled at me from their car.

Since I had my back to them and I was almost out of sight around the corner from the road, they clearly had no interest in actually interacting with me. They just saw a woman running and whistled. I was an object.

Whistling is on the harmless end of the spectrum of harassment but it IS still harassment. It’s disrespectful and it was unwanted.

– Holly

Location: 2235 Soapstone Drive, Reston, VA

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Find suggestions for what YOU can do about this human rights issue.

Coping with “fearful crushes” on the NYC subway in 1909

December 29, 2010

Any woman who has taken mass transit for any amount of time (or, in some cases, at all), has, no doubt, experienced or witnessed sexual harassment.

Harassment on public transportation is a common topic on my blog, from posts highlighting studies about harassment on public transportation, to posts about women who won’t stand for harassment, to posts about the latest country to start women-only buses or subway cars as a “quick fix.” It was also the topic of my presentation last month at Third International Conference on Women’s Safety: Building Inclusive Cities (where I argued that women-only cars are not long-term solutions and do not challenge or end harassment).

I think sometimes we may think that “back in the day” people were civilized, there was no street harassment, no harassment on public transportation. Sadly, this is simply not true. As long as there has been gender inequality and a societal disrespect for women there has been street harassment and as long as there has been public transportation, the harassment has occurred there.

1909 Hudson Tubes photo from Photographs of Old America via Ephemeral New York

The latest evidence of this tradition of harassment came to my attention via a post on the blog Ephemeral New York (thanks to my colleague ChristyTJ for the link).

In the post the author writes how in 1909 there was a test run of women-only subway cars (“suffragette cars”) during rush hour on the trains of the Hudson Tubes (today’s PATH). They were suggested because of inappropriate behavior by some men toward women riders. In the end, there was enough opposition to the idea, including from women, that women-only subway cars were never implemented.

The blog post piqued my curiosity and I found a lot more information about harassment on public transportation during this time period from the US Department of Transportation website, in an article by Dorothy Schulz and Susan Gilbert called, “Women and Transit Security: A New Look at an Old Issue”: 

“Within eight years of its opening, the transit system was being criticized for the sexual harassment of women and girls, who, although they accounted for only about a quarter of all peak hour passengers, were forced to endure jostling and unwelcome sexual contact….

One solution the transit system rejected was cars solely for women, although years later the system would embrace the idea of cars for students travelling between school and home in the afternoon hours. The transit system, though, continued to receive criticism about the safety of women riders. A few years later, women police officers worked as decoys to contain the behavior of men who made it ‘their business to insult and annoy women and girls.’…

As early as 1909—only five years after the IRT opened—a prominent leader of the Women’s Municipal League proposed that it reserve the last car of every rush hour train for women. At a time when women’s separate spheres in most aspects of public life were taken for granted by men and women, Julia D. Longfellow advocated this male-free space to assure that women were not forced to cope with “the fearful crushes,” and with sexual insults, and that they would not have to safeguard themselves from men’s sexual aggression. A secondary purpose of her demand for segregated cars was less benevolent. Longfellow, representing the views of many upper-class women of her time, believed that some working-class women were willing participants in this subway rowdiness, and that creation of women’s only cars would lead to more ladylike behavior by those who needed such reforming

The IRT rejected the idea, but women’s safety—or lack of it—whether real or perceived—remained a public concern. In 1918, when the first policewomen entered the New York City Police Department under a new, female fifth deputy commissioner, one of their first assignments was to attack the problems of white slavery and men who annoyed women on the streets, in the subways, and on the elevated trains—problems that were seen, at least in part, as related.

Those familiar with Progressive Era concerns about white slavery know that creation of such groups as the Traveller’s Aid Society were directly related to demands that women be present in train stations to protect young women, often runaways or working-class immigrants, from the clutches of those perceived as ready to lure them into lives of prostitution. Early policewomen, too, spent much of their time patrolling train stations, with the expressed aim of saving women from the perils believed awaiting them there.

Thus concern about women and their safety in and around transit systems has a long history and plays an important role in women’s demands for public positions in both the social service and criminal justice fields.”

Fascinating. How very little has changed in 100 years!!! I think this historical context helps show that even when there are some measures introduced to stop street harassment and harassment on public transportation, until there is a complete societal shift regarding the acceptability of such behavior, it will not end.

We have yet to achieve that societal shift. And we need it.

Street Harassment Snapshot, abbreviated Dec. 28, 2010

December 28, 2010

Because of the holidays, I didn’t do my normal Street Harassment Snapshot post on Sunday. This is an abbreviated one to highlight interesting street harassment news stories & blog posts from the past week or so.

Image from The Good Men Project

If there are any I missed, please add them to the comments.

Harassed, groped, and affronted in front of her own apartment door

December 27, 2010

I don’t feel safe at home anymore.

It was Monday, Dec. 20, when this happened. I had just gotten home from a night out with my friends and I walked up to my apartment. I was digging my keys out of my purse when I noticed a couple of guys walking up the stairs. I thought nothing of it as my neighbors are quiet and keep to themselves.

One of the guys started talking to me and I hadn’t gotten my key into the door, and I realized that at this point I was trapped between my living space and two guys I didn’t know. He was asking me if he could come ‘hang out’ and I said no. He touched me and tried to kiss me and at one point ran his hand over my crotch. He then grabbed my keys and opened my door. I went inside, shoved him and shoved my door closed.

I was in shock and I felt stupid that I didn’t call the police. I was too freaked out, and I was just glad that I got into my apartment by myself.

It’s been a few days and I still don’t think there’s enough water to wash all this disgusting off of me.

– DL

Location: Katy, TX (Houston Suburb)

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Find suggestions for what YOU can do about this human rights issue.