Hollaback Executive Director Emily May Battles Street Harassment

Editor’s Note: In June, New Leaders Council named their40 Under 40” — a group exemplifying “the spirit of political entrepreneurship.” Below is a guest post from Emily May, one of those recently selected who were kind enough to share some of their wisdom with Care2. More posts will be shared over the coming days — so stay tuned!

Read more from other 40 Under 40 Winners

BY EMILY MAY, Executive Director of Hollaback!

For six years now I’ve read every single story submitted to Hollaback!. They have inspired me, made me cry, and made me rage. But the ones that frustrate me the most are the ones where people blankly watched the harassment happen and never offered to help. Here are a few examples:

When a 16-year-old realized that she and her friend were alone in a park with a masturbating man she said, “The mothers in the park automatically caught on and left, without saying anything to my friend and I.”

When a young woman was stalked and verbally assaulted she wrote, “There were a number of people waiting in the train station lobby that were viewing the interaction, but yet I felt alone.”

And when a woman was surrounded and verbally harassed by a large group of young men she wrote, “What bothers me most about it is that it wasn’t some dark lonely street. It was early evening on a crowded street and no one seemed to notice.”

The failure of bystanders to act causes a double whammy of traumatization. First, you have some crappy thing happen to you. Then, you realize that no one cares, and that they are all just starring at you, doing nothing.

The silence from bystanders normalizes the harassment and leaves you thinking: Do they think it’s your fault? That you’re skirt was too short, or you were out to late at night? And as if that’s not bad enough, then you start question yourself and wonder if they are right.

Over 15% of the stories on our site talk about this phenomenon called the “bystander effect.” People hope that someone else will intervene, and even when they know they won’t they feel like it’s not safe or the “woman wouldn’t want it.” There is this idea that if you want to  intervene you need to strap on a superhero costume, swoop in, and beat everyone up. But really it just means asking the person if they are OK, if there is anything that you can do.

Hollaback! is launching the “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign to show bystanders how to intervene, and to celebrate when they do by mapping  heir stories.  Join us as we build a world where we all have each other’s backs.

Here’s more on the “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign.


K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Danielle B.
Danielle Raymond6 years ago

Thank you for the video! I do think we all should be educated on appropriate ways to speak up and stand up for those who are being harassed so that people will not continue to just stand there and do nothing.

Doris Turner
Doris Turner6 years ago

In many cases, I think people are afraid to speak up. Thank you for the reminder that showing support for a victim is important. Time to go back to my Nonviolent Communication study course by Marshall Rosenberg, who is a master on defusing situations.

Elena Arutiunova
Elena Arutiunova6 years ago

Thx for the video

Amie K.
Amie K6 years ago

I have never understood my people stand there gaping at awful things and don't do a thing about it. I am not one of those people and have tried to intervene when necessary. I realize that's risky (I'm a pretty small woman) but I don't think I could live with myself if I saw someone get seriously hurt or killed because I just stood there.

alex l.
alex l6 years ago

you don't need fighting skills - these people are cowards, if just one person faces them, they swell up and get nasty. two people facing them makes the shrink, and slink away. seen it, helped out, and was proud to do it again.
as a sexual assault victim, i can tell you how much it means to even have someone yell across the street - "leave that girl alone! i have the cops on the phone!"

Yvonne C.
Von D6 years ago

I did when I was younger, but I don't know if I would still do it, people are getting weirder all the time. You don't know if some one you are trying to defend would turn on you. I have helped my fare share it's time for someone else to carry on.

Mrs Shakespeare
Mrs Shakespeare6 years ago

Leaning no. Sorry, but I'm a girl who has no fighting skills, no weapons, nothing; I dont want to be next! Yes, I'll call the cops or try to get help, but I personally cant do much.

Valarie S.
Valarie Snell6 years ago

this is powerful

Fred H.
Fred H6 years ago

It would be nice if all people could have an expectation that people will help if assaulted. As a man, I certainly canNOT have that expectation and, statistically, I'm more likely to be the victim of violent crime than a woman. This is a HUMAN issue, not a WOMEN's issue.