GREENWICH VILLAGE — Dozens of women’s rights activists and concerned New Yorkers gathered at Washington Square Park Saturday to raise awareness about the harassment women and members of the LGBT community face daily on the city's streets.
It was the second annual rally of its kind in New York, organized by Hollaback, a Brooklyn-based organization that has been working since 2011 to combat street harassment by encouraging women to document incidents by snapping photos of perpetrators with their cell phones, and sharing their stories with the rest of the world. The rally was part of a collaboration with other activist groups.
“We’re really excited and overwhelmed with the increased support we’ve received in the last few years,” said Emily May, the executive director and co-founder of Hollaback. “We see more people sharing stories as a form of success. It is a way to make society realize that this sort of behavior is unacceptable.”
The group defines street harassment as a “gateway crime,” and says that various forms of sexual harassment, such as catcalling and jeering, can often lead to more violent sexual crimes like rape.
“Non-contact unwanted sexual experiences,” are the most prevalent form of sexual violence for both men and women, according to a 2010 Centers for Disease Control Report. A 2012 study commissioned by Hollaback along with the Worker Institute at Cornell University found that 86 percent of the social service providers they had interviewed in New York City had received reports of sexual harassment from clients.
The Washington Square Park gathering, which capped off the fourth international Anti-Street Harassment Week, was also a platform to unveil “His the Cat,” a black, inflatable cat that was created by Hollaback to raise awareness about street harassment.
Modeled on “Scabby the Rat,” an inflatable rat commonly used by union workers as a form of protest, the group will place it in a high-density traffic area in the coming days to increase its impact."Cats Against Catcalls" was emblazoned in white capital lettering across the side.
Dozens of New Yorkers holding signs like “Women are not outside for your entertainment,” and “My body is not public property,” assembled around the steps of Garibaldi Square where Hollaback had invited a series of speakers and performers to raise awareness about the issue.
Colorful signs in chalk with various messages about street harassment had been drawn on the pavement, and people chanted, "Hey hey, ho ho, street harassment has go to go.”
Members of Sydnie L. Mosley Dances, a Harlem-based dance collective were on hand to perform a piece called the “Window Sex Project,” which group members said reflected one way that dance could be used to combat sexual harassment.
“In street harassment the body is the site of the harassment,” said Sydnie Mosley, the founder of the group. “By using our bodies as a tool, we give back that agency that has been taken away from it in an act of harassment.”
Others shared stories about how they had experienced harassment in their day-to-day lives. Jennifer Pozner, the founder of Women in Media and News, an organization that works to increase women’s presence in the media, shared a story in which she was assaulted by a man who had offered to carry her bags while she was at the Port Authority Terminal last year. He grabbed her breast and pushed her against a wall when she refused to go home with him, she said.
“I just started screaming pervert at the top of my voice,” she said. “If I hadn’t raised my voice it could have turned into something else.”
Others reiterated the importance of raising a voice, even and especially as bystanders. David Beasley, who works with Safe Horizon, a victim services agency, talked about the importance of men intervening when they see another man acting inappropriately. He rattled off a series of methods of intervention whether it meant directly intervening in the situation, amassing a crowd to prevent the situation from escalating, or to create a distraction to diffuse the situation.
“We need to be better bystanders and raise our voices to end street harassment,” he said.
The rally was followed by mini-workshops in self-defense, dance, theater, and story telling among other things, in which those attending the rally could directly take part and share their stories face-to-face.