This past weekend, an estimated 500 people gathered in New York City to call for an end to street harassment. The event, which was timed to mark the end of International Anti-Street Harassment Week on Saturday, was organized by 46 groups that focus on issues ranging from LGBTQ rights, to sexual violence, to youth empowerment.
“The rally was an testament to the explosive growth of the street harassment movement in New York City — and the world. With 46 co-sponsoring organizations the message was clear: Until we end street harassment, the movement is here to stay!” Emily May, the executive director of Hollaback!, an international nonprofit group dedicated to combating gender-based harassment, told ThinkProgress in an email exchange.
The event included workshops on bystander intervention, over 20 speakers, hundreds of creative protest signs, and the unveiling of a new public art project. A 12-foot tall inflatable cat, dubbed a “cat against catcalls,” was installed next to the podium. Check out some photos of the rally (all images courtesy of Hollaback! and Sayfty and reprinted with permission):
This isn’t the first creative effort to tackle this issue in New York City. Last fall, a street art project plastered images on public walls with messages intended to speak directly to harassers, like “My outfit is not an invitation” and “Stop telling me to smile.” And Hollaback! recently partnered with the city council to unveil a new smartphone app that allows people to report incidences of street harassment in real time, helping streamline what used to be a complicated process of filing a formal complaint.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “non-contact unwanted sexual experiences” are the most prevalent form of sexual violence for both men and women in the U.S. Hollaback! regularly conducts research to determine the nature of this type of unwanted harassment around the world. For instance, a recent qualitative review of individuals’ experiences of street harassment in New York City found that victims are often left with “extreme feelings of fear, anger, shame.”
Ultimately, since this issue is often rooted in a lack of respect for bodily autonomy, it’s not just about being annoyed by catcalling. Activists in this space believe it’s important to change society’s approach to objectification as a whole.
“We want to change the culture that makes street harassment okay,” May explained to ThinkProgress, pointing out that the media coverage of the issue has soared over the past several years. “Street harassment is a gateway crime, and when we accept street harassment — either because we think it’s our fault, or because we think that in the face of climate change, economic crisis, and failing schools that it’s just not a big enough deal — we’re paving the way for gender-based violence to continue.”