Hollaback: fighting street harassment, one uploaded nimrod at a time

Discuss

57 Responses to “Hollaback: fighting street harassment, one uploaded nimrod at a time”

  1. Purplecat says:

    Hang on – Aren’t we talking about criminal acts here?

    If so, shouldn’t we be trying to get the crimes reported and prosecuted?

    Because that’s what you do when someone commits a crime against you. Suggesting that you blog about it seems to be belittling the entire thing.

  2. jpozner says:

    “And this is the ancient question of do you punish 10 individuals because 9 are guilty. It’s one of those deep moral questions: is it ok to ruin somebody’s life wrongly, if you ruin other people’s lives deservedly? Some people say yes. Some people say no. It has nothing to do with wanting to harass women.”

    Interesting that no one has responded to my point above… so I’ll ask again. If this site had been used by vindictive, scorned women to frame or get revenge against innocent men, wouldn’t it stand to reason that over the course of the site’s first five years, some of those innocently slandered men would have taken legal action, or complained about the site to the press or within social media? Instead, HollaBack has been the subject of quite a bit of attention in local and regional media, as well as social media, and none of that coverage has uncovered any men who were fraudulently targeted.

    • polama says:

      There’s the Streisand effect for one. If I were wrongfully accused on that site, I wouldn’t be too eager to bring media attention to the fact. It’s ultimately a he-said-she-said case. Someone says I groped them. I insist I didn’t. Who are you going to believe? Better to hope the comment is forgotten on the internet then become the guy people write about when talking about the site. Then there’s notoriety: what reason would I, as a woman respecting man, have for visiting the site at all? This is the first I’ve heard of the site. Do most of these posts have names attached? If not, how would the man find it?

      Maybe all the users are honest. I’m just saying that in my experience with humans, the internet and anonymity that usually isn’t the case. I certainly agree that respect towards women is hugely important and that we need more of it. I’m also willing to give this site a pass on the grounds that it’s on the good scale of vigilantism. But give it a long thought: if somebody posted a lie, how would you really know? Especially one without a name is very unlikely to get back to the source. If it could happen, and if you accept that not every person is honest, isn’t it likely that probably by now, or at least eventually, somebody misused the service? If you feel it’s still worth it because most people are honest, that’s fine, but I think it’s important to at least acknowledge the possibility for abuse, rather than insisting on a truth value none of us can know for sure.

      • MayorWilkins says:

        I think everyone acknowledges there’s the possibility of abuse. What rankles me, however, is that any kind of site with user-generated content could be similarly abused. The unspoken assumption among many commenters seems to be that because most submitters on HollaBack are women, they’re probably lying.

        • Anonymous says:

          To be fair, most sites that involve ‘user-generated content’ aren’t designed around the prospect of punishing people, which this is (punishing them with public shaming and defamation of character). In ideal cases, deservedly so. But that’s what makes people jump to the thought “what if it’s misused?”. Most social networking sites have, as a goal, connecting to people, or making you laugh, so, although people could misuse it to hurt somebody, it’s in the same way that anyone could misuse anything, from a blog to a nail-clipper to hurt somebody, if they were devious and industrious enough.

          That said, I’m not against the site in an way. I’m sure somebody will eventually use it for evil, and I hope that when they do they’re caught and punished.

  3. fxq says:

    Sadly, when Victorian women tried publishing “Fie on You, Sirrah!” pamphlets, they were not well received.

  4. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Moderator note: Some comments may have been orphaned.

  5. knitmeapony says:

    People* taking photographs of police, TSA, etc to prevent abuse: power to the people!

    Women** taking photographs of men** to prevent abuse: OMG WHAT ABOUT ABUSE AND LIBEL?

    * = read: ‘men’

    ** = mostly

  6. SallyStrange says:

    To be more generous, the knee-jerk reaction that “Women are going to lie about this to hurt men” could also be explained by a complete ignorance of just how common, and humiliating, the experience of street harassment is for women.

    In that case, we’re just talking about basic male privilege rather than active misogyny.

  7. xzzy says:

    I guess the moral of the story here is that men should wear a burqa in public, so they can’t be identified when objectifying women.

  8. ericroded says:

    What’s “holla?”

  9. Aloisius says:

    I know this may be shocking to some, but defaming people is pretty easy on the Internet. One more website that makes it possible isn’t that big of a deal.

    Further, if you’re hanging around women who are that vindictive, then you need to reevaluate who you associate with.

    Finally, as a straight, white (well Jewish) male that lives in San Francisco and likes to dress up, I’ve had plenty of gay men ogle me. I’ve had shop keepers ask me to spin in place so they could check me out.

    I personally find it a bit flattering when a gay man hits on me, but that’s because I have no fear of being attacked or touched inappropriately. I imagine someone who feels vulnerable would feel differently. A website like this is empowering for them.

    • Goblin says:

      “I know this may be shocking to some, but defaming people is pretty easy on the Internet. One more website that makes it possible isn’t that big of a deal.”

      Just because it is easy and everyone does it doesn’t also mean that we as a society should tolerate such abuses. Technically defamation and bullying is easy within people’s local communities, but that doesn’t mean that people engage in such behavior on a regular basis.

      You are implying that you are willing to turn a blind eye to the online bulling of both teenagers and the improper shaming of adults simply because the internet makes in easy? I truly hope that wasn’t what you wished to imply.

  10. Ugly Canuck says:

    What is with these cat-calling louts? Where do they pick up these rotten habits?

    Someone should teach them that they oughta keep that behavior for their visits to the strip joints and burlesque halls, where it might be tolerated.

    Here’s a tune they can hum to themselves instead, if they should ever feel tempted to do anything so obtuse and un-gallant as to cat-call some bird passing by:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xc5DUZintK4

    Manners, people.

  11. dros says:

    It’s worth noting that these harrassers/attackers are not named on the site. The emphasis is not on scandalising the harasser but on empowering the victim by offering a community to turn to. One which is more interested in the welfare of, primarily, women and LBGT people, not the further pursuit of individual perpetrators.

    When I’m harrassed on the street, I take away something from that exchange, whether I respond or not. That thing is usually harm, sometimes even flashbacks to past assaults. This site lets me jettison that harm, and it soothes to hear someone say ‘you were right to feel shite about that, what that man did was wrong’, for once.

    Hollaback exists to make the experience of many thousands of people visible. I have visited the site and the stories there have helped me come to terms with my own experience and that of my peers: from being beaten for fun by a group of young men; sexually assaulted by a friend; to testifying in court because a man forced his way into my home and onto my housemate (then seeing the same man shopping with his family the next week). Experiences like this are not out of the ordinary for women living in the UK and elsewhere.I have, however, never submitted a Hollaback. I admire the people who can, and who stand up to harassers. Long live Hollaback.

    • bwcbwc says:

      “It’s worth noting that these harrassers/attackers are not named on the site.”

      Though if 4chan and /b/ get on the case, it doesn’t really matter if they are named…But more likely they’d be the ones doing the cat-calling, etc.

  12. knoxblox says:

    With no intention of lessening the impact toward women, I would like to point out that men are also sometimes targets of male-on-male harassment. Are men allowed to participate?

    Also, I’m not sure if this is much good against harassers in moving vehicles, though. In a couple of cases of thrown food, I’ve tried to whip out my phone to catch the license plate, but they were moving too fast. I’d sure hate to have been any of those people who were subject to paintball attacks, either.

    • Cassandra says:

      Hollaback’s website states:
      Hollaback! breaks the silence that has perpetuated sexual violence internationally, asserts that any and all gender-based violence is unacceptable, and creates a world where we have an option—and, more importantly—a response.

      I assume they decry street violence against people of any and all genders, according to that.

      BTW, I bet that in a post that is mostly about street harassment’s impact on women, you probably don’t need to “point out” that men are also sometimes targets of street harassment. Most women and LGBT people are already fully aware that street harassment has many faces; people working to end street violence will also be aware. Most people who aren’t men experience street harassment on a routine basis. Think about the fact that at least half of the world’s population–if not more–is already more aware of street harassment and its many forms than most men will ever have occasion to be, before you decide to patronizingly “point out” something to them because you assume they’re not aware of it.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I really want to thank you guys for opening my eyes to the incredible discrimination straight, white, cisgendred, able-bodied men who can afford internet access endure. I’ve learned a lot today. Clearly, women should just shut up and take any and all street abuse because there is a chance that some woman, somewhere, might use this non-legally-binding system for ill.

    Frankly, this should be applied to rape laws, too.

    I just…I just never knew the extent of the suffering.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Just because a system has the potential to be abused doesn’t mean it can’t also assist.

    In a perfect world, no one would post anything fake to Hollaback…

    …oh, wait, I mean: in a perfect world, there would be no need for Hollaback.

  15. mellowknees says:

    Seems like a good idea, but I know that I’d be more concerned about the person I was photographing escalating their harassment once they saw me taking their picture. Just sayin’.

  16. prh99 says:

    Sounds like a good way to get sued. Dontdatehimgirl.com was sued pretty quickly, I can’t imagine it will take long for the same thing to happen in this case. Lucky for these sites they’re protected, at least in the U.S, too bad the same can’t be said for their users.

  17. Ellen says:

    I think the main point is that girls don’t like being “hollered at” on the street. You might think you’re giving someone a complement and that they’ll be flattered, but being looked up and down by a stranger when you’re just walking down the street is extremely uncomfortable. Especially because often if you don’t return the “hey baby” it immediately turns nasty.

    I’m not sure I agree with the method, but I do support the idea behind it. It’s not cute; it’s not harmless; it’s HARASSMENT and we don’t like it.

  18. jpozner says:

    This is a fantastic project. And knee-jerk skepticism aside, I’ve been aware of HollaBack NYC for five years, and it has never been subject to inappropriate usage. The pictures and stories are clearly in-the-moment on streets, subways, busses, and the like. I’d respectfully suggest that the above commenters reflect on why their first thought was to worry about fraud and victimization of innocent men, rather than to consider the very real intrusion and threat street harassment poses to many women all over the world.

    Hollaback offers a way average women can take back their power in the public sphere, from asshats who think that just by nature of being female and being in public we deserve (or, worse, provoke) sexual attention, in the form of everything from comments to grouping touching to other forms of assault. Having grown up in NYC, I started experiencing street harassment when I was around 11 years old. It never stopped. Catcalls. Explicit descriptions of what they want to do to me. Explicit evaluation of my body. Men following me down the street, or following me off the subway. Men jerking off on the subway in front of whichever women they could find to make uncomfortable. Once, a NYC bus driver with a bus full of passengers slowed down to a crawl to creep along the block as I walked, opened the door, and yelled, “Hey baby, can I give you a lift?” That would have almost been funny if I wasn’t 15, and on my way to high school. Almost. Once, a guy who volunteered to help me carry a very heavy suitcase down the stairs at Port Authority used the opportunity to push me up against the wall and grab my breast (when I started yelling bloody murder and threatening him, he ran away).

    Once HollaBack came on the scene, I was able to write about some of those experiences, and now that I have a camera in my cell phone, it’s easier to shine a negative spotlight on this kind of inappropriate and in some cases illegal behavior.

    So, don’t worry, there are more than enough legitimately awful, hostile dudes out there behaving badly to fill up HollaBack’s many sites… no need for fraud.

    • signsofrain says:

      Right back at ya jpozner, isn’t it interesting that when people bring up the real potential for abuse of this system you call it “knee-jerk skepticism”? I guess if it doesn’t fit your worldview it’s just stupid, right?

      How can you know, much less prove, that all of the photos and stories submitted to Hollaback NYC are legitimate? Is there any attempt whatsoever to validate them? Followup investigation? You state it as fact: “I’ve been aware of HollaBack NYC for five years, and it has never been subject to inappropriate usage.” but I don’t see any proof. Try again.

      I’m all for using social networking in this way. It’s a genius idea, it just needs work. Start with forcing users to register and verify their identities somehow. I can think of a few examples of female-only forums online where you need to send in a picture of yourself holding a sign etc etc… something like that. Otherwise, the first 4chan attack will destroy the entire system.

      • Niklas says:

        How can you know, much less prove, that all of the photos and stories submitted to New York Times are legitimate? Is there any attempt whatsoever to validate them? Followup investigation?

        How can you know, much less prove, that all of the photos and stories submitted to Boing Boing are legitimate? Is there any attempt whatsoever to validate them? Followup investigation?

        How can you know, much less prove, that all of the photos and stories submitted to FARK are legitimate? Is there any attempt whatsoever to validate them? Followup investigation?

        How can you know, much less prove, that all of the photos and stories submitted to Ars Technica are legitimate? Is there any attempt whatsoever to validate them? Followup investigation?

        Face it, signsofrain, the possibility of abusing a web site with fraudulent content is not enough to discredit said web site. I now state it as fact: “I’ve been aware of these web sites for years, and it has never been subject to inappropriate usage.” but you don’t see any proof. Try again.

        I think this is excellent, not only as a tool for individuals, but also as a symbol that we still have a long way to go to reach equality between the sexes. Just look at previous discussions here where the definition of rape is still not understood by some of us men.

        I am ashamed this is happening.

  19. Jeff P says:

    I don’t imagine that the kinds of guys who participate in this kind of holla’ing are ashamed of it. To some of them, it will probably be like a contest, to see how many times they can be photographed.

  20. Skep says:

    “jpozner

    This is a fantastic project. And knee-jerk skepticism aside, I’ve been aware of HollaBack NYC for five years, and it has never been subject to inappropriate usage.

    Knee-jerk skepticism? As opposed to knee-jerk defensiveness of HollaBack? You can’t know that it has never been subjected to inappropriate usage unless you have a magic ability to detect true claims from false ones. HollaBack may well already be rife with false or misleading claims–you have no way to know for certain.

  21. bobthecitizen says:

    First thing that comes to mind is the woman who caught a flasher and refused to relent:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIlObKYwUyI&feature=related

    I agree that it could be abused. But so can pepper spray, or any other means of empowerment.

    If you merely scan this thread it’s easy to guess who here probably enjoys harassing women on the street.

    • malthusan says:

      “If you merely scan this thread it’s easy to guess who here probably enjoys harassing women on the street.”

      That seems like a leap. Is it really reasonable to assume that anyone who is skeptical of this service or who disagrees with its intent/implementation is guilty of harassing women on the street?

      What assumptions are you going to make about me for questioning your gross generalization?

  22. gandalf23 says:

    I thought for a while that there should be something like this for bad drivers. Perhaps called iDB, for iDriveBadly? (or as my fiancée says it should be called, iDoucheBag :) ) Put in a license plate # and say what they did, or have a menu of common annoyances like hollaback has. we all have that piece of scratch paper in the car covered in license plates of jackasses who’ve pissed us off while drivng, ummm…right? Surely it’s not just me. Anyway, maybe you have to put in your license plate when you sign up to iDB, so that if someone complains about you you can be informed. Dunno. If someone makes something like this that would be cool, I think.

    • seejaneworkit says:

      There *is* an app for that – DriveMeCrazy.

    • BookGuy says:

      I think the danger in the iDriveBadly app is that the reporter becomes yet another bad driver while trying to text information to iDriveBadly while driving. Staying alert around bad drivers is probably better than whipping out the phone.

  23. gipszjakab says:

    “There is a new billboard outside Time Square. It keeps an up-to minute count of gun-related crimes in New York. Some goofball is going to shoot someone just to see the numbers move.” – David Letterman

  24. TimDrew says:

    Watch any bit of news footage taken in the western world (or pretty much anywhere, actually), and increasingly you will see, in the background, gaggles of folks with cell phone cameras whipped out, ready to become the author of the next Viral Thing. Can be an agent for change, and awareness in a world that is becoming more recorded and uploaded on the personal scale. The recent TSA videos are a good example of this. Likewise, If the harrassment is verbal/ by a coworker, etc. it sounds like this is not a bad idea- for that sort of verbal, non-physical aggression.

    Problem is, TSA folks are very likely not going to go all the way and rape or kill the person photographing them. I’d think that pepper spray or another means of self defense be the first item of readiness in many cases; having a cell phone in your hand just means that your hand is occupied when it should be clear, in case it it really needed for defense.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Pretty sure that this would be illegal in the UK under data protection laws. IANAL but someone out there must know

  26. jpozner says:

    In response to those who’ve asked — I know the organizers of the site. They’ve expended a great deal of energy and time in making sure that their site is not misused.

    I also am involved with NYC and national media; if the site had been misused by people making false or fraudulent claims in the ways folks seem worried about above, you can be sure that it would have come out either legally or, at the very least, online. It is safe to assume that if innocent men considered themselves unfairly slandered via this site by vindictive, scorned women as some commenters imagine, would they not have fought back legally, through the media, or through online means to defend themselves. That has not happened in five years.

    Oh, and a quick semantics lesson: my use of “knee-jerk” is appropriate to describe the immediate “oh, but women will use it against their ex-boyfriends!” defensiveness in response to a post about giving women power to fight back against unwanted harassment. To say that my comment itself was “knee-jerk” is just lazy, since I offered a detailed background of the problem the Hollaback site addresses, and grounded my comment in knowledge of the site’s history and usage. Disagree with me all you want. Reasoned debate is always appropriate. But calling me “knee-jerk” is as amusingly boring as it is incorrect.

  27. jpozner says:

    (Apologies for grammatical typos above. Was trying to do two things at once…)

  28. nemryn says:

    Yes, false accusations / counter-harassment / etc are a potential problem with this. They’re problems that can be solved after women aren’t harassed so much, though.

  29. SallyStrange says:

    Come on you misogynist boingers, don’t hold back, come right out and say what you’re really thinking:

    BITCHES BE LYIN.

  30. cinemajay says:

    Agree that this seems to be missing a huge accountability component. I’d say it has good intentions, but revenge is slippery slope. Better off snapping a photo and sending it to the cops then opening yourself up to a lawsuit based on hearsay.

    It may not have been subject to inappropriate use in the past, but assuming it’s going to stay that way is an exercise in ostrichical haberdashery.

  31. SallyStrange says:

    The corollary is: how do you KNOW that the photos AREN’T legit? You don’t, and to assume so is necessarily to assume that women in general are lying, vindictive bitches.

    • polama says:

      The corollary is: how do you KNOW that the photos AREN’T legit? You don’t, and to assume so is necessarily to assume that women in general are lying, vindictive bitches.

      No, it’s a much a looser standard of proof in that direction. “This service is never misused” is saying that no woman is lying and vindictive. “This service will be misused” is saying that some women are lying and vindictive (or hell, men. Who says the abuser is going to even be an actual woman?). Not most, not all, just “there exist lying, vindictive woman”. There do. There exist lying, vindictive men. There was a case not that long ago of an employee uploading child pornography onto a bosses computer to frame him. I promise you, people lie to make people they don’t like look bad. Most people don’t. A few do. Regardless of how noble the intended use is, the abusers of the service won’t care.

      And this is the ancient question of do you punish 10 individuals because 9 are guilty. It’s one of those deep moral questions: is it ok to ruin somebody’s life wrongly, if you ruin other people’s lives deservedly? Some people say yes. Some people say no. It has nothing to do with wanting to harass women.

      A lot of people are ok with vigilantism, believing as long as justice is generally metered, it’s fine that it happens outside the legal system. Some of us disagree, regardless of how noble the cause is. It’s a defensible position, not a knee jerk reaction or a sign we secretly hate women.

  32. cinemajay says:

    Gah, “then” should be “than”. Big difference!

  33. jpozner says:

    SallyStrange: thank you. Just… thank you.

  34. SallyStrange says:

    Thank YOU, Jpozner.

  35. SallyStrange says:

    If, upon hearing of the existence of this site, your VERY FIRST THOUGHT is that “Gosh, some lying vindictive bitch is going to use this to defame some innocent fellow,” rather than, “Gosh, I bet that’s empowering for the women who experience street harassment,” then I think it’s a pretty safe guess that your dominant view of women is that they are generally lying vindictive bitches, and the ones who aren’t are anomalies.

    Why? Because in REALITY, the realm occupied by those who recognize that women are just people, not some strange exotic alien species with entirely different operating systems from men, street harassment is a widespread, pervasive phenomenon. Women falsely claiming to be harassed in order to hurt an innocent man is, by contrast, NOT a widespread, pervasive phenomenon. If you think that it is, then you are one of those people who thinks that women in general are lying vindictive bitches.

    • MayorWilkins says:

      Exactly.

      Also, any social media platform has the potential to be abused. Someone might use a WordPress blog to spread lies about their boss, or post compromising photos of their ex on Facebook. Why isn’t anyone here advocating against these sites, since they also have the potential to be used to wrong someone?

      As others have pointed out, it’s extremely telling that many people here seem to care far more about a hypothetical man who maybe, possibly could be hurt by this site than about the millions of women who face harassment on a daily basis.

      • polama says:

        Which comments suggest to you somebody who doesn’t care that women are harmed? I don’t mean that to be rhetorical. Rereading, I just don’t see that. Most commenters supported the site. The other comments seem to be neutral towards it, pointing out that just like every other tool there’s potential for abuse. I don’t see a single instance of somebody accusing all women of lying, or implying that they deserve sexual harassment. One person brought up free speech, maybe he was a sexist, but it could also just be a misunderstanding of scopes.

        Read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_vigilantism. Read up on yelp. The idea of using the internet as a platform to shame people who wrong you is far older than this site. I’d point to “Dog-shit girl” a Korean girl caught on film failing to pick up after her dog. She was humilated and harasses by strangers for months afterwards, getting forced out of school and society (is that a fair punishment? Personally, I’d lean more towards fines then endless harassing calls and threats). I’d point out Yelp, regularly accused of blackmailing restaurants with the threat of bad reviews if they don’t advertise with them. I think if you asked, most of the people who posted questions about the use of this feel that way about all internet vigilantism, not just that designed to help women.

        So to be clear, in case I’ve given the wrong impression here: I don’t think catcalls, gropes, unwanted language of any kind is appropriate or ok. I think it is an issue that’s important for public discourse, and that the right thing to do when you see someone being harassed is to inform the harasser that’s not ok. I don’t object to the site on the grounds that women are in any way, shape or form more likely to make false accusations. I don’t even, at the root of it, object to the existence of the site. But the idea that an accuser is always telling the truth is a dangerous one. This wasn’t a knee jerk response to the site based on a subconcious prejudice against women: I’ve thought about the ability of the internet to empower the harassed and ruin peoples lives long before I read this article.

        • Cassandra says:

          I’ve thought about the ability of the internet to empower the harassed and ruin peoples lives long before I read this article.

          Meanwhile, harassed women everywhere have experienced the ability of reality to empower the harasser and ruin their lives long before they heard of the internet.

  36. Ugly Canuck says:

    Device? Or service?

  37. PittJames says:

    Actually, harassment and verbal threats (most of these comments turn threatening when the woman ans the audacity not to respond) ARE not covered by freedom of speech.

    But you’re right, how dare women use something like this to try and stop an overwhelming problem because a few women MIGHT use it for personal gain? We should just shut down all of the Internet just in case some men get accused of something they didn’t do.

    The point. You missed it. Take your patriarchal mansplaining and shove it.