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. She wants you to Hollaback!
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.
May co-founded Hollaback! as a blog in 2005 as a 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 have changed the way the community thinks about street harassment by establishing a network of women with shared experiences. 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 its launch, Hollaback! has collected over 7,000 stories of harassment globally and nearly 3,000 first-hand accounts of street harassment in New York City alone. 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.
In 2010, the New York City Council held the world’s first hearing on street harassment. Following the recommendations of that hearing, Hollaback! partnered with the council to re-launch their app so that when you reported street harassment in NYC, you could also opt into reporting it to the Council member in the district where you were harassed. This made NYC the first city in the world to allow citizens to report harassment to the local government in real time.
As a result of its work, Hollaback! has been awarded the Manhattan Young Democrats Engendering Progress award and been named as one of CNN’s Top Safety Apps. The app has now launched in 79 cities in 24 countries and in 18 languages around the world.
You have the power to end street harassment.
Emily May is a leader in the anti-street-harassment movement. In 2005 – at the age of 24 – she co-founded the New York City-based Hollaback! (iHollaback.org), and became the organization’s first full-time Executive Director in 2010. Hollaback!’s mission is to give women and LGBTQ folks an empowered response to street harassment, and ultimately, to end it. Under May’s leadership, Hollaback! has scaled to a robust network of over fifty cities internationally, with over 200 trained activists working on the ground. In 2010, the Women’s Media Center selected May as one of thirty “Women Making History.” In 2011, she won the “40 under 40″ award from the New Leadership Council. In 2012, The Huffington Post named May as one of 20 women “leading the way” and Jezebel included her in their “25 kick-ass and amazing women we love” list. May – a London School of Economics graduate – was recently named an Ashoka Fellow.