Website gives voice to street harassment victims

January 20, 2012
By

Two women with long ties to Jamaica Plain are barking back at catcallers with a new website, boston.ihollaback.org.

Hollaback! Boston aims to combat alleged street harassment by providing a forum for women and LGBT victims of catcalls, rude gestures and uninvited touching to share their stories, often including pictures of the alleged harassers.

“For many, many people, street harassment is just a part of daily life, an unremarkable and accepted norm,” Kate Ziegler, one of the founders, told the Gazette. “Hollaback! encourages victims to speak out, to explain publicly how harassment impacts their daily life, how it makes them feel.”

“Ultimately, we hope to bring an end to the era in which street harassment is socially accepted behavior,” Ziegler said.

Ziegler said she was “frustrated, sick and tired of the unavoidable catcalling” she’d have to endure while running. When she complained about the harassment on her blog, a friend pointed her to ihollaback.org, the New York City-based prototype site.

“I was excited to discover the organization, but surprised that it didn’t exist in Boston,” Ziegler said.

When she found out friend and JP resident Britni Clark was interested in starting a Boston Hollaback!—as long as she got help—Ziegler jumped on board, she said.

Hollaback! Boston is run by five women: Devon Audie, Jane Carper and Angela Della Porta are based in Worcester, while Ziegler and Clark are Boston-based.

Ziegler and Clark both have strong ties to JP: Clark currently lives in JP and Ziegler is a past resident and former JP Centre/South Main Streets employee.

“I want to encourage my friends and those close to me who are affected by harassment to Hollaback,” Carper said. “They do not have to take it.”

For now, the local site is still relatively unknown, but the founders say they are hopeful.

“My most important goal is to get Boston talking about Hollaback! and to keep the conversation around gender-based violence going,” Carper said.

A small event was held at Bella Luna restaurant at the Brewery Complex in November to commemorate the website’s launch. Ziegler and company have been working with several JP venues in efforts to organize a large Hollaback! kickoff early this year.

Hollaback! sites also ask their local heads to engage in anti-violence activities offline. They suggest collaborating with other local groups, holding events in their communities and meeting with local legislators.

Ziegler did not address Hollaback! Boston’s offline activism.

The original Hollaback! site was created in New York City in 2005, and has since expanded to 16 countries and 18 U.S. cities. In its FAQ, it specifically asks submitters to avoid racist remarks.

“Due in part to prevalent stereotypes of men of color as sexual predators or predisposed to violence, Hollaback! asks that contributors do not discuss the race of harassers or include other racialized commentary,” it states.

The FAQ also requests that only women and LGBT persons submit their stories. Even though men can be harassed by women, according to the website, “the power dynamics of such an encounter are very different in a society where women comprise a historically subordinated group. Hollaback! is a project dedicated to combating a particular form of violence that designates subordinated groups…as targets in public spaces.”

“Hollaback girl” is also a slang term for a girl who always returns phonecalls, no matter how badly she is treated by the men who call her. Ziegler also did not address this point.

Hollaback! has an iPhone and Droid app. The local website is boston.ihollaback.org.

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