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Blog gives women power over harassment

Elizabeth Montalbano | June 8, 2008
The popularity of the New York City HollaBack blog has inspired spinoffs in other cities and states.

Many don't, so the idea of HollaBackNYC is to give women the power to identify when they feel they've been unjustly harassed and make men answer for it, May said.

In these cases, victims of street harassment experience similar personal trauma to victims of more obvious and prosecutable crimes such as sexual harassment in the workplace, domestic violence, sexual assault and even rape, even if the crime itself is not as severe, she said.

Case in point: The other day I was walking in the Bronx on my way to the New York Botanical Gardens. For some reason, I received more attention than normal from some of the men in the neighborhood. When I finally made it to my destination, I wondered if perhaps it wasn't the best decision to wear a figure-hugging dress on my eight-block walk from the subway, though the day was warm and sunny and my skirt fell to midcalf.

It's this effect of street harassment, that self-blame that women also experience when they are the victims of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault and the like, that May said she hopes the blog helps women avoid.

"When women go, 'I shouldn't have been walking there,' or 'if I do this, I won't get harassed,' it's their way of wanting to control a situation that you can't control," she said. "It has nothing to do with it at all."

Rather, street harassment transcends class, race, socioeconomic status and ethnicity, May said, and it's "about power" more than it is about a man's physical attraction to a woman he sees on the street.

May also said that the common misconception that men of certain race or ethnicity engage more in street harassment is not true. A third-party Web site performed an independent analysis of the street harassment reported on HollaBackNYC, she said. The results showed that races and ethnicities of the men alleged to have harassed women mirrored demographic information for the racial and ethnic makeup of New York.

Though it's hard to quantify the positive effect HollaBackNYC has had on women, May said that studies have shown that women who are victims of rape and other sexual assault experience less depression or post-traumatic stress disorder afterward if they fought back against their perpetrator, even if they were unsuccessful in preventing the crime. She said that she hopes the blog gives victims of street harassment a similar way to vent their frustrations so they feel less guilty or maligned later.

Women can submit photos and reports of harassment to HollaBackNYC not only from their PCs, but also directly from their mobile phones. The site also takes video submissions.


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