On her commute in 2005, a stranger began masturbating across from Thao Nyugen in a NYC subway car. She took a picture on her cell phone with the intent of taking the image to the police. NYPD didn’t take action, but when she uploaded the image onto a Flickr account, the picture when viral, catapulting with it a new conversation about sexual harassment in public spaces. With his picture in news sources citywide, the harasser no longer held power.
Street harassment may be the social and cultural norm, but Emily May is using crowd-source technology and social media to change the way we think about this insidious form of gender-based violence. What started as a blog, May co-founded Hollaback! in 2005 as way to reverse the power dynamics of sexual harassment in public spaces. “We wanted to take the focus off of the woman and onto the harasser,” says May. “When you’re being harassed the lens is on you. We want to turn it back around and put it onto them.” Inspired by Nyugen’s refusal to be a victim, Hollaback! became a place to collect photos and stories of street harassment.
In November 2010, Hollaback! launched Android and iPhone apps that allowed users to anonymously submit harassment stories, upload photos and mark incidents’ locations on a Google map. The stories shared are changing the way the community thinks about street harassment by establishing a network of women with shared experiences and a freshly defined goal. This safe, immediate, and action-oriented response to street harassment, transforms girls, women, and LGBTQ folks into open-source activists with the touch of a button.
Hollaback! not only ensures victims of sexual harassment that they’re not alone, but also gathers a healthy data set on street harassment in real time. Since the launch of the app, Hollaback! has collected over 4,000 first-hand accounts of street harassment. Equipped with new knowledge of where and how these incidences take place, women are now more than ever able to ignite public conversations and develop innovative strategies to ensure equal access to public spaces.
Hollaback!’s successes helped spark the world’s first ever hearing on street harassment in New York City. After the hearing, Hollaback! connected their iPhone and Android apps with the city’s 311 information line. Today, with the help of the City 2.0 Award, Hollaback! gives New Yorkers a platform to report street harassment straight to local governments in real time. “A crowd-sourced movement is the key to changing policy and minds, and ultimately, creating a world where everyone has the right to fee safe and confident,” urges May. The data produced from this network of activists will inform a long-term policy strategy to fight sexual harassment at a higher level.
Buttressed by a community of support, Hollaback! trains women leaders to use their skills to ignite a grassroots movement with the goal of calling attention to this long-ignored issue. Hollaback!’s long-term goal is to expand upon the partnership with the New York City government, and scale the project internationally though its network of 62 cities, 25 countries, and 12 different languages.