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

56 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven9 months ago

thanks for sharing.

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Nellie K Adaba
Nellie K Adaba11 months ago

Never heard of that.

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Marie W.
Marie Wabout a year ago

How about some floggings like Singapore?

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Elaine W.
Past Member about a year ago

Teaching manners to children improves their feelings of self worth, as well as respect for others. It is cruel not to do so.

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Rosslyn O.
Rosslyn Oabout a year ago

I also feel that parents have a lot to answer for with these rude and aggressive children. We were taught respect for others and especially our elders. My children have instilled these values on to my grand children. Not that hard to do. I do agree that many things on TV or movies have some rethinking to do about this issue as well. Having said that, I am so pleased that there are people ready to offer help and an ear to those who have had the misfortune of being harassed. It is a horrible thing and takes a very long time to come to terms with. Wonderful that this service is now bilingual, and God bless the wonderful work your doing.

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Chad Anderson
Chad Aabout a year ago

I am glad to hear that there are good people working on this.

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Berny p.
Berny pabout a year ago

WHEN parents will teach their children discipline,respect for others and show exemple this will carry on...and it has nothing to do with money.....MANY SPOILD BRATS OUT THERE....I HAVE BADLY BEHAVE CHILDREN BUT IT IS UP TO YOU TO ACCEPT THEIR BEHAVIOUR...FIND PARENTS IN THEIR POCKET FOR BAD BEHAVIOUR AND THINGS WILL CHANGE QUICKLY!...
OH SORRY I FORGOT.....HUMAN RIGHT WONT ALLOW IT......BULL S..T

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Danuta Watola
Danuta Wabout a year ago

Very interesting article thanks.

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Past Member
Past Member about a year ago

Until all parents start raising their children to grow to be ladies and gentlemen again, I doubt anything will change.

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