Tagged: street harassment

Safecity: Documenting Street Harassment

We live in a data-driven society: to address a given problem, you first have to prove it exists. In the past year, organizations like Hollaback have drawn attention to street harassment through videos and social media campaigns. But statistically speaking, how prevalent is the problem? Who’s logging complaints? Sometimes, street harassment takes the form of an annoying catcall or a demand that a woman smile. But other times, it can be downright dangerous: United Nations Women estimates that, over the course of a lifetime, one in three women experience sexual assault.


Elsa D’Silva. Image courtesy of Impact Hub

Safecity founder Elsa D’Silva wants to change this statistic. In her native India, it is estimated that a rape occurs every 20 minutes. But with the guilt, fear, and shame often associated with street harassment, it is believed that many cases go unreported. D’Silva conceived of Safecity as a way for victims to anonymously report incidents and shed light on previously invisible crimes.


Image courtesy of Rising Voices

In addition to collecting reports, Safecity aggregates the data and highlight trends on a map. This visual reporting style helps women take precautions in high-harassment areas and provides evidence of the problem to lawmakers. Outside of the app, D’Silva and her team run sexual harassment awareness workshops to empower victims and shift the attitudes of men and boys. As D’Silva points out, India does not teach sex education, so Safecity also aims to change attitudes about sex, gender, and relationships.


Image courtesy of Tech in Asia

Currently, Safecity collects reports in two forms: on the web and via phone callback. However, the team is working on an app to allow more detailed documentation. Follow Safecity on social media to track their progress and learn about future initiatives.

Miss Eaves & P. Kilmure: Aye Girl

New York City can be exhausting; with so many people and so little privacy, you can never count on a peaceful journey anywhere. Recently, Hollaback’s video documenting street harassment sparked conversations in the media and on Twitter. Even seemingly innocuous encounters can turn weird. Last week, I was approached by a man who complimented my coat and then followed me down the train platform asking if he could try it on. When I refused and sneaked away, he glowered at me from across the train car until I switched at the next stop. Who does that?

The comforting yet depressing truth is that there is no reason to feel alone; women experience intrusions of privacy and street harassment everywhere. Fortunately, some women are speaking from their experiences and condemning it. Last week, I checked out Shanthony Exum a.k.a. Miss Eaves and her new video, “Aye Girl.” The track centers around street harassment but the video flips the script and makes a man the target. Pursued by a gaggle of leering women, the protagonist grimaces with discomfort while Miss Eaves explains, in no uncertain terms, that she is not amused by street creeps. And damn, if it doesn’t get stuck in your head. Keep rhyming, Miss Eaves!

The Beat Goes On: The Perils of Street Harassment

In New York City, the rules for interacting with strangers are fairly clear: keep to yourself. On the train, loud conversations or taking up too much space will catch you serious side eye. On the sidewalk, people pop in their headphones and sidestep foot traffic to the beat of their personal soundtracks. That’s not to say that asking for directions or striking up a conversation is verboten, but there is no expectation of prolonged, in-depth interaction. The assumption is that everyone’s got somewhere to be.


Or are the expectations different depending on who you are? This week, an unidentified woman had her throat slashed as she walked home because she refused to engage in conversation with her attacker. In a separate incident, Mary Spears was shot and killed while attending the funeral of a family member after she refused to give her attacker her phone number. And that’s just this week.In September, the bodies of teenagers Angelia Mangum and Tjhisha Ball were found on the shoulder of a Florida highway; the circumstances surrounding their deaths are unclear and the case received minimal media coverage. Who knows how many other incidents go unreported every day.

When I read about these cases, my initial reaction was disgust. The mental leap one must take from hitting on a woman to murdering her is not only appalling but also illustrates that, to the murderer, she was never a person to begin with. Her physique alone sparked a glimmer of lust that transformed into rage at the first sign of a bruised ego. There’s no genuine attraction there; it’s just a conquest. These interactions were never about the women; they were about the attackers. These women could’ve been anyone.

And then I shook my head with disappointment. Silly rabbit, the rules aren’t the same for everyone across the boards. On a regular basis, some men have no qualms about breaking those unwritten rules, as if there’s an exception for women. And while shooting a woman when she won’t divulge her number is extreme, asking for a woman’s number is in no way unusual. Instead, it’s said that women should be flattered when they’re showered with a litany of “Honey, Sweetie, Mami, Baby.” It’s a sign that a woman is beautiful, right?

Unfortunately, these are the most innocuous offenses on the spectrum. Women of color, lesbians, and trans women are even more likely to experience vicious and even life threatening forms of harassment. What’s even more infuriating is that justice is rarely served in these extreme cases. Just last week, the state of California banned the use of the “gay panic” and “trans panic” defense in court. To clarify, this defense has been used successfully in several states to acquit people who murder gay or transgender individuals based on the argument that they lost their faculties to a moment of “violent temporary insanity because of a little-known psychiatric condition called homosexual panic.” Frequently, the victim is blamed when she was simply walking down the street.

I won’t disclose my own experience with street harassment because it is neither extreme or unique. However, I do find myself wrestling with the way I choose to handle it. If it’s a quick comment, I’ll often just smile and ignore it, rationalizing it to myself that the man in question was just trying to be friendly.  For a more persistent and creepy negative friend, I often smile and apologize, explaining that I have a boyfriend. And then I think about it: why do I respond in that manner? Why should having a boyfriend be the reason that creepwad needs to stand down, to back off, when my own disinterest should be enough? While in my own imagination, I let loose with a string of curses and tell that dude where to go, I hold back in reality. If I’m going honest, it’s because I can never gauge when a stranger is going to cross that line, when a switch will flip and some casual advances may turn into something more serious. I doubt Mary Spears anticipated her situation would escalate that quickly, either.

Ultimately, I feel that there are two important takeaways from these utterly despicable crimes. Since we live in an age of 140 character infoblasts, I’ll keep it brief with these two key points:

Intentions don’t matter; reception does.

So frequently, the excuse/fake apology surrounding sexism (or racism, or homophobia, or any -ism, really) is “Well, I didn’t mean it like that.” There’s this false belief that women just don’t get it, that they’re being too serious or, God forbid, bitchy. Let me make this abundantly clear: when the statement in question makes a person feel self-conscious, threatened, or ashamed, intentions are irrelevant. While I suspect that the man who murdered Mary Spears had bad intentions from the jump, this assumption that good intentions equate with a positive reception is completely bogus.

Women don’t owe anyone shit.

It does not matter if she’s wearing a bikini or a burqa walking through the middle of Times Square or down a country road. Women are not obligated to give out their phone numbers, to interact, to pay anyone any mind if they do not choose to do so. They do, however, deserve to be able to walk outside in without feeling uncomfortable, unsafe, or embarrassed.

My cynical side has little faith that street harassment can be wholly defeated, but people like Tatyana Falalizadeh give me hope. This Brooklyn-based artist’s project, “Stop Telling Women to Smile,” posts portraits of women prominently in the street. Each portrait is captioned with statements like “My name is not Baby,” “My outfit is not an invitation,” and “Women do not owe you their time or conversation.” Together, these pieces create a comforting touchstone of solidarity and serve as a silent companion for women walking home alone.

Thank you, Tatyana, for plastering the streets with the words I am too nervous to vocalize. I look forward to a day when we no longer have to say them.