Bilingual Street Harassment Hotline Launches
At least 65 percent of women in the United States have experienced street harassment, along with 25 percent of men. Despite its ubiquity, communities are often short on resources for victims of harassment, making the work of organizations like Stop Street Harassment and Hollaback critically important.
Now, there’s another tool on the block: a 24/7 bilingual English and Spanish hotline — 855 897-5910 — and online chat for people who have experienced street harassment and want help, putting the power directly into the hands of victims.
Holly Kearl of Stop Street Harassment, who created the hotline in collaboration with Defend Yourself and the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), took a few moments to talk with Care2 about the project – the first of its kind in the world.
“There still are a lot of people who see street harassment as a compliment, especially more mild forms,” Kearl explains. “People don’t have their experience legitimized, and have nowhere to go for help. For that reason among others I’m really happy to have this hotline. People who don’t have anyone else to talk to will know it’s not their fault.”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Though the bulk of the callers who have contacted the hotline since its launch in late July indeed asked for personal support — a friendly ear in an often hostile world — others expressed interested in exploring their legal options after being harassed, or sought resources to help them the next time it happens.
The RAINN staffers who answer the phones received special training from Kearl and Lauren Taylor of Defend Yourself and have access to a large body of resources for support. One unexpected advantage of having RAINN’s platform to handle calls, says Kearl, is the fact that rape victims are often retraumatized by street harassment. An experienced rape counselor can help them process issues that may arise.
When she started working in street harassment, Kearl saw that available resources were limited, and some activists weren’t making the connection between rape culture and harassment.
That’s starting to change, especially in the wake of several viral videos highlighting the experience of being harassed. However, Kearl notes that these videos show only a small slice of the picture, since they all feature young, nondisabled and conventionally attractive women. In our conversation, she noted that men — especially LGBQT men of color — are targeted by harassers as well and that women of all ages, races and disability statuses experience harassment.
Whether it’s a pregnant woman being hassled by a stranger on the street or a man with long hair being told he’s too effeminate, harassment isn’t “just” about being catcalled and shouted at, either.
People may be stalked, blocked from walking, touched or sexually assaulted in harassment encounters. In a handful of instances, street harassment has turned fatally violent.
In fact, the very first call the hotline received involved a woman who was hassled at a bus stop by a man who started out with a friendly conversation and ended up kissing her against her will. She wanted emotional support, and like many people, she thought that the incident was somehow her fault because she’d been friendly. “It’s so engrained in us to blame ourselves, regardless of gender,” Kearl says.
The national hotline and chat are a start, but it’s not the end of the road. When I asked about the possibility of rolling out the training to local rape crisis centers to help field street harassment calls, Kearl said it’s under discussion, though she’s not sure when it will happen.
For now, people who have experienced street harassment and feel alone or invalidated finally have a friend to talk to, and that friend is armed with resources whether callers just want to chat, explore pressing charges or learn what they can to do support people when they experience street harassment.
If you’re fired up and want to help out, you can’t volunteer on the hotline yet — unless you happen to work for RAINN, but you can always volunteer at your local rape crisis center. You can also boost awareness about the Street Harassment Hotline — there are downloadable images to share on social media or print out, and Kearl is collecting names for a distribution network if you’d like to put up stickers or posters in your community.
Stopping street harassment isn’t an easy job, but supporting resources to help victims can be a great first step.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore