Sick of Street Harassment? Here’s How Some Women Are Fighting it

I grew up in a small town, with maybe four or five thousand people. It wasn’t the type of place where I felt particularly unsafe. However, even though it was a sleepy and unexceptional town, I remember having to deal with street harassment. Not a lot of it, but it wasn’t uncommon. It really doesn’t make you feel great.

According to statistics, street harassment is a significant part of the lives of many women all over the world. In the United States alone, 84 percent of women have considered changing their behavior to avoid street harassment. It’s not just a city problem, either; 90 percent of women in rural areas have experienced this kind of harassment, 88 percent of women in suburban areas and 87 percent in urban areas.

Now, thanks to the anti-street harassment nonprofit Hollaback!, you can report your street harassment with a touch of your smartphone.

Hollaback! has had an app since 2010, but the latest iteration takes it up a notch. The new app lets you report abuse and see a map of street harassment hot spots. According to The Atlantic:

[T]he newest version released last month for use in New York City functions as a street-harassment reporting tool…The home screen lets access “Resources” or “Know Your Rights,” and it also includes a map with balloons that reveal street harassment clusters. In addition to posting incidents, users can plot their location manually or via GPS, noting the area and type of location (borough, school, business); enter demographic information (race, gender); and attach a picture of an incident they witnessed or experienced. If users opt in to the feature, those reports then go to their district’s database and Councilstat.

There is a bit of controversy surrounding the app. Some people are worried that getting the government involved will displace the movement’s history of grassroots activism, while others are wary of giving the New York City government access to demographic data. However, Emily May, the co-founder of Hollaback!, says the app is actually an extension of the movement’s grassroots activism. The information gleaned can help local organizations to create tailored campaigns.

As a general matter, an app designed to document and educate about street harassment seems really empowering. Being harassed on the street plays off the power imbalance between men and women. Any attempt to correct that imbalance is worth a try.

This app is just another way that women are banding together to combat the misogyny we experience every day. We’ve been doing this on the Internet for years, often with copious amounts of snark and sass. Take this missed connections post from CraigsList. It was posted by a woman who was harassed by a man stopped a light who then drove away before she could respond. So she responded on the Internet.

The whole post is truth-bomb after truth-bomb. Now the entire world knows what kind of jerk this guy is, and it will hopefully act as a teaching moment for any guy out there who thinks shouting inquiries about someone’s underwear from a car window is ever appropriate.

We live in a world that doesn’t respect women’s personal autonomy, or even our personal space. When you become sensitive to it, you can’t help but see it in our politics and our culture. We do what we can to assert our right to exist in the world, whether that is documenting your harassment via an app, writing a scathing indictment of some bro on CraigsList or citing your boyfriend as a means of getting men who are too interested in you to leave you alone. Until the message finally gets through – that women are people who deserve your respect – it’s what we have to do.

Photo Credit: Hello Turkey Toe via Flickr


Jerome S
Jerome S7 months ago


Jim V
Jim Ven7 months ago

thanks for sharing.

Alison A.
Alison A4 years ago

OK Alex, well I got bored half way through your comments, you talk a lot about rape and how women ask for it, I suppose you are telling women on here, don't report rape and/or domestic abuse as you will only get blamed for it. How ridiculous!

I am going to tell men and women, if someone commits an act of violence against you, REPORT IT! Not all people are told they are to blame and if that is how things work in Canada, move to a country which is not so judgemental and discriminative.

Anyway, this topic is nothing to do with rape or violence, it is about men shouting and women who have the ability to walk away and ignore childish behaviour, not being followed (as you added in your wild scenario for effect), just harmless words!

You have your opinion which wildly spirals out of control and I have mine.

alex l.
alex l4 years ago

because they wouldn't be. they would be rightly upset.

but if women complain or try to do something to defend themselves, they are accused of overreacting or whining.

and this is true; this crime is almost exclusively done to women by men, and it is largely ignored, unless some woman foolishly brings it up and then she is accused of hating men.
as well, 96% of adult victims of rape are women, while 99 - 99.5% of the perpetrators are men. this is also largely ignored, unless some foolish woman brings it up and then is accused not only of hating men, but "playing the victim".

but when women are the victims of such crimes, they are asked "why didn't you do something to protect yourself?" or "why didn't you say something?" or "why don't women make this stop?"

because when we do talk about it, or try to protect ourselves, we are accused of "playing the victim".

alex l.
alex l4 years ago

there has NEVER been a defense in court that claimed "he asked for it" or asked "what was he wearing?"
but when women get raped, all we hear are excuses - for the rapist.
no one states that the man who is raped is in any way responsible for his assault, but with woman almost all we hear are comment about her responsibility - in short, whether in court or in society, all we hear with regards to rape is hypocrisy.

as to the use of terms like "real victim" - it is a slippery slope. people seem to be able to downgrade what happens to others no matter how terrible the crime - look at the rape of women, for which they are blamed. most question if the woman is truly a "real victim", or is just a "man hater" who is trying to hurt some nice guy (only 3% of men who rape women ever go to jail, while the rest of the rapists go free, and all rapists claim the woman wasn't "a real victim", but instead was "playing the victim".)

the point about street harassment is this; it is truly terrifying to have six large men screaming about what they want to do sexually to your body. it is intimidation, it is aggressive, and it is frightening, as it is supposed to be. no one should have to be told "your fear is stupid. you weren't raped or killed, so stop whining".
if this was being done to the average man by even larger and stronger men, it would be seen as a crime, and would be treated as one. no one would tell the upset men that they were "playing the victim" because they wouldn'

alex l.
alex l4 years ago

they know their victims will be the ones blamed, not them.
this is men bullying women, pure and simple.

when the type of man who openly and aggressively sexually harasses women on the street sees he can get away with it, he most often will continue to behave in such a way, but he will move on to worse types of bullying and harassment - violence always escalates.

there are men who feel that bullying women in these ways is part of being an man, and they know that all they have to do is claim that the women who complain about it, or who try to defend themselves, are simply "man haters", or are "playing the victim".
the men who think this way learn a valuable lesson; if i do these things to women, i can blame her and everyone else will back me.
rapists think that way - they know they can rape women and the society will say "she asked for it".

as to your comment about men being told "they asked for it" - the point is that most women who are raped are told they asked for it, while men who are raped (the vast majority of men who are raped are raped by other men) are not told they asked for it. instead people call for the death penalty for the rapist. men who rape men get longer sentences than men who rape women. a woman who rapes a man gets a longer sentence than a man who rapes a woman.
when rape happens to men, the society treats it as it should be treated - as a terrible crime. there has NEVER been a defense in court that claimed "he asked for it". but when

alex l.
alex l4 years ago

if it happened more than once, he most likely would go to the police. but this happens to women EVERY DAY, and if THEY are upset about it, they are told that they are "playing the victim".

we expect women to take it - or else we tell them they are doing something wrong. and the relationship between this and the other abuses of women should be obvious; we make women responsible for what rapists do, for what abusive significant others do, for what aggressive men on the street do.
in every case, we tell them they ought to do this or that, but what we DON'T do is tell men "don't harass or scream hate speech at women on the street". instead we tell women "don't react to harassment or hate speech if a man does it to you".
the society likewise says "don't get raped" rather than "don't rape".
when we hear "ways to prevent rape" tips "don't rape" is never one of them.
and that is the ONLY way to prevent rape.

in short, we target the victims and make them the responsible ones - and this is typical of crimes committed by men against women. the onus is always on the women, not the men who commit the crimes.

the problem with this type of crime - open sexual, aggressive harassment - is that when it is so readily accepted, many of the men who do it see that they can get away with doing this to any member of more than half the population, and they escalate. this type of aggression almost always escalates, because they know that their victims will be the ones blamed, not

alex l.
alex l4 years ago

alison - it is strange that you accused me of doing something you have done here yourself.
i didn't ever say you claimed rape was not a serious crime; i said that by using the same logic you used with regards to this topic, people downplay the rapes of women.
please reread what i said.

as well, i did not claim you said domestic abuse is the woman's fault - i said the same logic you used here is used there - to blame the women for being over sensitive, or for saying that by not getting help it is their fault.

and comparing the two situations is absolutely important; because in both situations we see women facing a crime - harassment and hate speech are illegal, just as rape and assault are - and in both situations we see that women can't win. if they complain they are "playing the victim", whereas if they don't complain, they are told they must "like it" or "want it" and when it escalates - as all abuse does - they are blamed for not complaining and are told they could have stopped it earlier if they had.

while this crime is certainly not as bad as rape or assault - and i never said it was - it is something that women are expected to take, while men are not. if several six foot five, three hundred pound men screamed at a guy who was walking by that they wanted to pound his butt, and maybe followed him up the road, he would - rightly- be afraid, and would call it harassment. he would see that a group of much larger, stronger people were behaving aggressively and sex

Alison A.
Alison A4 years ago

BTW, do you have any proof that "NO man is EVER told he "asked for it"?

Do you think when a man claims he has been raped the police don't snigger to each other, maybe they say "he should be so lucky" or, "I wouldn't mind a woman taking advantage of me, ha, ha".

Both sexes have their issues and neither should be mocked or taken lightly, but like I said, this topic is about harmless words and not what you are obviously one sided about.

Alison A.
Alison A4 years ago

Hi Alex, you are so quick to jump on my comment that you went totally off track, accusing me of something I didn't even say.

If you recall I said -

"If women want to stop 'being' victims they need to stop 'playing' the victim, there are 'real victims' out there who are actually being bullied, persecuted and physically hurt, stop trivialising real problems with nonsense."

I am referring to REAL VICTIMS, victims of domestic violence, rape ect. These are the very people who ARE being ignored because of 'do gooders' who shout about harmless words, making women look like they are just complainers and not victims of serious crimes.

I never said that being raped is not a serious crime, nor did I say that domestic violence is their own fault, these are true violations of a 'persons' (you need to stop thinking that it is all about women, men are victims too) right over their own body, like I said, you can walk away from 'words', so stop making a big deal out of something and clouding these REAL problems.

This topic is about workman giving a wolf whistle, or shouting out 'nice jugs'; is it nice? No. Is it necessary? No. Is it something that we should be comparing to a woman being dragged into an alley and forced to have sex against her will? Most definitely not!

Be careful about your choice of protests, you could just be being detrimental to the cause that you actually care about.