BROOKLYN — Catcallers and street harassers are about to be challenged by a team of chivalrous cyclists.
Community organizing group Brooklyn Movement Center is launching its first “Anti-Street Harassment Bike Patrol” in Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights aimed at calling out people who hassle women on the street.
Once a week, volunteers will bike in groups of four to intervene in situations sparked by unsolicited remarks.
“We want to work on community building and make people more aware of these issues,” said Carina Arellano, an organizer with BMC’s No Disrespect team.
“We want to create safe spaces to discuss how we feel when we are being harassed and communicate with people in a safe way to make it conversational, not confrontational.”
Formed in 2013, No Disrespect works to end all forms of sexualized street harassment in Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights.
Past campaigns have included charting catcall patterns, conversations with women sharing their experiences and “chalk parties” that scrawl anti-street harassment messages on the ground.
Their new initiative involves having someone stationed at a home base that can be reached by phone if situations escalate.
No Disrespect founding member Anthonine Pierre came up with the idea after encountering an harassment incident around Bedford Avenue last spring.
“I saw a woman carrying shopping bags and a guy following her who kept saying, ‘Let me help you carry your bags, ma,’” Pierre recalls. "She kept saying 'No.'"
“I was riding past on my bike and I screamed at him, ‘She doesn’t need your help!’ and he immediately whipped around and turned his attention to yelling at me, which gave the woman time to walk away.”
The group defines patrol participants as those who have experienced some form of street harassment, including individuals identifying as LGBT.
Members must attend an orientation to become familiar with No Disrespect’s strategies for diffusing street harassment incidents.
Techniques include asking individuals questions about directions or the time to throw them off, distracting them with noise on the opposite side of the street, or using humor to deescalate tensions.
Members are encouraged to use eye contact with “harassers” to let them know they are being watched and to start meaningful conversation.
“We could ask them, ‘How would you feel if this was someone you were in a relationship with or someone you were related to? What would you do?’” Arellano said.
A 2015 study from anti-street harassment group Hollaback! and Cornell University found that 85 percent of nearly 5,000 women polled in America experienced street harassment for the first time before age 17. More than 11 percent reported their first harassment before age 11.
The report also noted 72 percent of women chose different modes of transportation due to unwanted attention and critiques.
No Disrespect’s patrol aims to change the culture around street harassment instead of criminalizing the behavior, Arellano said. Organizers see the patrols as a “building tool” to educate the community.
“The only way to change it is to have the people doing the harassing understand that it makes people feel threatened and it's not viewed as a compliment,” she said.
“Even if it changes just one mind, it still makes it a little bit safer.”
The group held its first orientation on Wednesday and will host another meeting in the coming weeks, organizers said. For more information, contact the Brooklyn Movement Center at (718) 771-7000.