Sunday, December 28, 2008

Message from a Reader

Sexual harassment is around us everywhere we go and ignoring it will not make it go away. Neither will brushing it under a rug. Lawmakers and employers are not doing enough to stop this nauseating behavior so most incidents go unreported giving the harasser a false sense their behavior and harassment is acceptable. What is even worse is when someone actually does speak up and reports harassment they often face retaliatory actions from their harasser, employer and others. These retaliatory actions range from personal threats and stalking to the victim losing their job for reporting the behavior and legal actions against them. Feeling the need to help change these issues, I recently started a grass-roots non-profit organization (The Dogwood Project) that provides aid and support to individuals, both men and women alike, who have reported sexual harassment and now face retaliatory actions. I have also just created a facebook page for the organization. Please come join us in the fight against sexual harassment and for women's rights!!


Friday, November 14, 2008

Grope and Run

As happens all too often, this street harassment occurred on UConn's Storrs campus. I was walking back from a bar (waring flats, jeans, and a VERY modest shirt) to a friend's apartment, chatting casually with my friends as we entered the parking lot to their apartment complex, staying on the designated pedestrian area on the side. All of the sudden, a car slows down, pulls up next to me, and the passenger (white male) leans out of his car AS IT IS IN MOTION, gropes me, and then drives away. As I was just a tad more uninhibited than I normally would be at the time, I yelled "FUCK YOU!" as the car drove away. I wish I could have grabbed his hand and held on as his friend kept driving, or at least have the opportunity to get in his face and yell. Then that guy would not have forgotten me. Unfortunately, because all I was able to do was yell an expletive at a moving car, I'm sure that person thought nothing of it, and that's what makes me angriest.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Public Interactions & Street Harassment Survery

Cross posted on here by request, Please Take the Street Harassment Survey!

One of the problems with street harassment is that it has been so rarely researched and written about. I recently had brunch with Holly Kearl, who is currently writing a book about street harassment. Rock on girl.

Help her out by completing this quick online survey about street harassment:

The more folks who take it, the more accurate it is, the more that changes in the world. Hollaback survey-style!


Friday, September 26, 2008

Satisfaction Guaranteed

It was 7:00am on a weekday and i was walking past a school bus stop. There were a few kids standing around waiting for the bus. I didn't think anything of it. Until one of the boys, around 8 years old, began gesturing inappropriately at me and yelling, "satisfaction guaranteed!" over and over. He kept making the jerking off gesture with his hand and thrusting his body back and forth while looking at me. I attempted to walk by but he just followed me up the block, yelling and thrusting. This boy could not have been older than 8. Finally when i had enough and got the courage to say something i turned around and said, "do you even KNOW what you are doing?!" He said, "no, they told me to do it!" and pointed to the older boys standing back at the bus stop laughing. I told him what he was doing was very inappropriate and disrespectful. His eyes swelled up with tears. He was clearly scared and did not think i would reprimand him. I so badly wanted to talk to the older boys and call their parents but i didn't think it was my place. The whole experience left me feeling dirty as well as disappointed in our youth.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rapes at UConn

A reader sent in the email all UConn students received as a response to the second reported rape at the University within two weeks.

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: [UCONN_STUDENTS-L] Crime Alert
From: "Blicher, Ronald"
Date: Sat, September 13, 2008 5:49 pm

Crime Alert

September 13, 2008

Criminal Arrest - Sexual Assault

The following incident occurred overnight and is not related to the incident of sexual assault reported to you as a crime alert on Sept. 6. It is important for everyone in the UConn community to remain vigilant and to assist one another by calling the police if someone needs assistance. The person responsible for this incident described below has been arrested and is not considered to be an imminent threat to the community at this time.

On Saturday, Sept. 13 at approx. 2:28 AM, the UConn Police Department received reports of a sexual assault that had just occurred inside a residence at the Celeron Square Apartment complex located on Hunting Lodge Road. An unknown male had unlawfully and forcibly entered the apartment and bedroom of a female victim who was sleeping at the time. This male then sexually assaulted the female who was combative, alerting other people nearby. The male fled the apartment. Officers initially
responding to the incident had located a partially clothed white male in the area who had been attempting to force entry into another nearby apartment. It was determined that this male was the person responsible for the sexual assault.

He was arrested by UConn Police and held on $500,000 bond.

He has since posted that bond and has been released. He has been informed that he is not to be on the property of the University and although I cannot be specific, we have some assurance that this direction is understood and will be complied with.

Frank P. Cirillo, age 21, of 59 Penny Lane, Woodbridge, CT was arrested and charged with Home Invasion, Sexual Assault 1st degree, Burglary 1st, degree, Criminal Attempt Burglary-1st, Criminal Mischief 3rd, Larceny 6th, Breach of Peace 2nd.

Major Ronald Blicher
Division of Public and Environmental Safety
Director of Police Services
UConn Police Department
126 North Eagleville Road
Storrs, CT 06268
Tel. 860-486-4808
Fax. 860-486-2430

Thursday, August 28, 2008

When Should We Get Involved?

A reader sent in this story of a woman who intervened when she saw a girl getting physically abused, and I thought it brought up a lot of interesting questions about when to get involved.

I was waiting for my bus up to Ye Olde Transit Centre early this morning, and I noticed a young couple scuffling outside the Youth Employment Centre near my bus stop. They were older teenagers - the boy was 17 or 18, and the girl looked to be about 16. She was crying and yelling something at the boy, and suddenly they started pushing and shoving.

She took a swing and he grabbed her hand (he was easily 6' and she must have been 5'2 and about 100lbs) and he threw her up against the building and grabbed her throat. I was alone at the stop and reacted instinctively: I pushed my way between them and told the boy to back off. Predictably he started screaming at me to "stay out of his business" but I ignored him and worked on leading the girl away. She kept sobbing in apology, and flinched when the boy tried to grab her hand. The boy kept yelling at me to "stay out of it" and I told him that he if was going to assault his girlfriend on a public street than it damn well was my business, and that if he didn't back off and move away I was going to call the police.

...He muttered, "Fucking feminist bitch!" and moved away up the street.

Telling that he called her a feminist as a pejorative, but I digress. I've often seen things in public spaces that I found upsetting and/or well, criminal, and I've spoken up when I've felt safe. But how can we gauge safety, or if other women want us to get involved?

I'm reminded of two stories...

A women's studies professor I had as an undergrad told my class about how her sister was in an abusive relationship - his battering her was so loud that the neighbors called often the police. However, the police generally made things worse: Not just because they didn't arrest her boyfriend and treated her as if she was the criminal - not believing her, asking if she had attacked him - but also because once they left, she was beaten even worse. My prof went on to say that from then on whenever she saw or heard a woman being abused, she asked if the woman would like her to call the police - assuming that she knew what was best for her own situation.

Another one (apologies, can't find a link to the original article anywhere) was from a couple of years ago when a woman was grabbed on a crowded subway platform by a strange man who was attempting to drag her away. As she fought him, he pretended that they were having a "lover's quarrel" - saying things like, "Oh honey, I'm sorry, come on now!" - so that the surrounding crowd wouldn't help her. The victim ended up grabbing another woman passing by and saying to her, "I don't know this man." The woman beat him off of her and held him until police came. (It was a good story!) But I remember asking myself why people wouldn't stop to intervene even if they did think it was a fight between a couple.

When do we help? How can we assess a situation and react accordingly?


Join the conversation here

Monday, August 11, 2008

Locally and Abroad...

Street harassment is not funny, it's not flattering, and it should be publicly acknowledged for what it is - making women and other minority groups feel like shit. Harassers do it because they believe that their victims won't speak up or resist....I have found that one of the best things you can do is publicly, loudly call them out on their behavior. I have been harassed on various occasions in Storrs, CT, even in broad daylight, by guys shouting things from their cars or walking by. It is frightening and humiliating, and it makes me angry as hell. About two weeks ago I was walking across campus and crossed a main road at 9 a.m., only to have some guy drive behind me and yell at me to turn around. I honestly was so shocked the only thing I could do was ignore him and keep walking. In retrospect, I wish I had given him the middle finger but it just didn't occur to me at the time.

I have also experienced street harassment in Europe. In London this summer my friend and I were approached in a public park where we were sitting on the grass, eating dinner, by two teenage guys who said "hey sexy" etc. We rolled our eyes and left the park, only to have them follow us for blocks. As we were familiar with the area and
were on a crowded street around dinnertime I just thought their behavior was annoying but then they continued to stalk us for about 20 minutes. My friend and I began to get frightened and ran into a pub to use the bathroom and avoid them. When we left the pub they were waiting outside for this point I was so fed up with their
crass remarks and disgusting behavior that I got in one guy's face and started screaming at him to leave us the f*** alone. The guy looked embarrassed at me making a scene and he and his friend walked away laughing. My friend and I were so shaken up about it, we mistakenly thought that because we were in a public place, we were minding our own business, and we weren't dressed provocatively, that we wouldn't
be a target. THIS IS NOT TRUE. You can't prevent yourself from street harassment - it can happen anytime, anywhere, and honestly why should you have to change your behavior to avoid assholes like this in the first place??

Thank you for drawing attention to this...people need to understand that it happens all the time.

Poking Pervert

This happened in Mexico. I was on a subway with my family and I was 16. There was a middle-aged guy standing very close to me and he seemed drunk. He kept inching his way closer and closer to me until I could feel his erect penis against my hip. I looked over at my brother in horror and he moved in between me and the guy. I can't imagine what I would have done if I had been alone.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Anti-harassment Ads on NYC Subways!

Props to HollaBackNYC for all your hard work and effort in getting the MTA to post anti-street harassment ads!

Text reads: "A crowded train is no excuse for an improper touch. Don't stand for it or feel ashamed, or be afraid to speak up. Report it to an MTA employee or police officer."

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Overcompensating for Something...

I regularly get honks, cat-calls, and whistles when i am jogging, so actually, i've grown to expect it. No matter how I am dressed (sweatshirt in the winter or running shorts/sports bra in the summer) I get some kind of disgusting attention while I am out running. The most recent episode took the cake! As I was about to jog across the street a gross man in a gorgeous red convertible drove slower and slower. The slower he drove the more I had to slow down so not to run into his car. Finally, as I was halfway in the street he honked, which freaked me out because it made me think there was a car coming or something. When I turned around I realized there was no car and the man just wanted to get my attention (I was in the middle of the street at this point!) He said, you like what you see? I wish I could have been quick thinking enough to reply something witty but instead I stood frozen in the middle of the road! How dare he compromise my safety by harassing me in the street! I jogged away and he drove off...

That red convertible was nice... and it made me wonder what he was overcompensating for in addition to being a total asshole!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It's So Hard to Find Good Help These Days

I am 15 right now, and at the time of this "incident" I was 14. The scene is just out in downtown Darien, Connecticut, which is a pretty safe state if I do say so myself. I was waiting on a bench right next to a family restaurant FULL of people, while my friends left to go to a Starbucks not 50 yards away. While I was sitting and waiting for my parents to pick me up, I noticed two "gentlemen" come up to me. They said a few sentences, but all I managed to get out was "Are you alright? You sure look alright. You want us to wait with you?" All the while they kept leering at me and smiling, and I could tell they were smashed. I just kept saying "I'm fine, I'm okay" until they crossed the street. I immediately went to go to my friends at the Starbucks and I said "Those drunk guys were hitting on me" to which a guy friend of mine responded "Those weren't just any drunk guys, those were firemen!"

Originally posted by HollaBackNYC

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Connecticut, It's Time to HOLLA BACK!

The site is up and running. I am still working on gathering resources and support for street harassment, so stay tuned for that!

If you currently have stories and/or pics of Connecticut street harassment, send them to

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I submit a story I have of street harassment?
Email stories and/or pictures to

Is it anonymous?
Yes. We would never post your name or email address with your story. This is all about your safety for goodness sakes :) However if you don't mind the post saying, "Posted by Samantha" at the bottom, just let us know and we'll write your first name.

What is HollaBack?
HollaBack is a collective comprised of women and men who believe in building communities where everyone is comfortable, safe, and respected. Many people are unaware of the frequency and severity of disrespect and intimidation that numerous folks, especially women and other marginalized groups, experience in public spaces on a daily basis. HollaBack aims to expose and combat street harassment as well as provide an empowering forum in this struggle. HollaBackCT is a watch-dog blog that serves to call out all forms of street harassment that occurs specifically in Connecticut.

What is street harassment?

Street harassment is a form of sexual harassment that takes place in public spaces. At its core, street harassment is a power dynamic that constantly reminds historically subordinated groups (women and LGBTQ folks, for example) of their vulnerability to assault. Further, it reinforces the ubiquitous sexual objectification of these groups in everyday life.
At HollaBackNYC, they believe that what specifically counts as street harassment is determined by those who experience it, and HollaBackCT agrees. While there is always the classic, “Hey baby, nice tits” there are so many other forms that go unnoted. If you feel like you have been harassed in any way, HOLLA BACK!

What does racism have to do with street harassment?
Replacing sexism with racism is not a proper holla back. Due in part to prevalent stereotypes of men of color as sexual predators or predisposed to violence, HollaBackCT asks that contributors do not discuss the race of harassers or include other racialized commentary. If you feel that race is important to your story, please make sure its relevance is explained clearly and constructively in your post.

Aren't you just dismissing and belittling another person’s culture with your definition of street harassment?
Street harassers occupy the full spectrum of class, race, and ethnicity. Sexual harassment, and street harassment specifically, is resisted around the world. To condense another’s culture into vague assumptions about who and what they are is to generalize dangerously about a wide range of experiences and perspectives.

Confronting street harassers can be dangerous. What about safety issues?
While everyone is vulnerable to stranger rape and sexual assault, studies show that those who are aware of their surroundings, walk with confidence and, if harassed, respond assertively, are less vulnerable. Nevertheless, direct confrontations with street harassers may prove extremely dangerous, particularly alone or in unpopulated spaces. While it is each individual’s right to decide when, how, and if to Holla Back, do keep issues of safety in mind. Upon deciding to photograph a harasser, you may consider doing so substantially after the initial encounter and from a distance, ensuring the harasser is unaware of your actions.

Does my Holla Back have to be about an incident in Connecticut?
Well no, of course not :) This site's focus will be primarily CT but we will accept stories about any location. However, if your incident is about an experience in another city that has a Holla Back site, please feel free to email them (see other Holla Back site's linked on the main page).

Don't women like the attention they get? Why else would they dress like that? Also heard as "If you show off your boobage, shouldn’t you expect some compliments?"
Sure, expect them, but don’t accept them! Just because it happens doesn’t mean it’s okay. A compliment is not a compliment if it makes the recipient feel uncomfortable.
How a woman (or man) is dressed is never an invitation for street harassment, offensive conversation, flirting, groping, or any sort of unsolicited attention.

These FAQs are adapted from HollaBackNYC


Replacing sexism with racism is not a proper holla back.

Due in part to prevalent stereotypes of men of color as sexual predators or predisposed to violence, HollaBackCT asks that contributors do not discuss the race of harassers or include other racialized commentary.

If you feel that race is important to your story, please make sure its relevance is explained clearly and constructively in your post.

Initiatives combating various forms of sexual harassment and assault have continually struggled against the perpetuation of racist stereotypes, in particular the construction of men of color as sexual predators. There exist widespread fictions regarding who perpetrators are: the myth of racial minorities, particularly Latino and Black men, as prototypical rapists as well as more prone to violence is quite common. This stems in part from a tragic and violent history, where black men in the U.S. were commonly and unjustly accused of assaulting white women as well as lynched by mobs and “tried” in biased courts.

Because of the complexity of institutional and socially ingrained prejudices, Holla Back prioritizes resisting both direct as well as unconscious and unintentional reinforcement of social hierarchies. Simultaneously, Holla Back aims to highlight the interrelations between sexism, racism and other forms of bias and violence.

Further Reading:

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

“I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” Short, accessible piece on white privilege and male privilege.

A Black Feminist Critique of Same-Race Street Harassment

Focuses on the experiences of black lesbians and the need for black women to hold black men accountable for upholding black patriarchy.

Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color

Considers the intersections of racism and patriarchy, and how the experiences of women of color remain unrepresented within the discourses of both feminism and antiracism.

Current Remedies and Their Failures

Currently, a number of legal tools exist to combat street harassment. While some of these have proved successful on occasion, none are an effective remedy in part due to factors described below. It should be noted, however, that there exists one particular area where women have been extended greater protection: common carriers (buses, trains, and other transportation forms) and hotel guest situations. Women may recover damages more readily if harassed by an employee—or even another patron—of a common carrier or hotel. More information on this follows below.

Criminal Remedies

Although they do not provide monetary damage awards, criminal remedies include the advantage of an attorney provided by the state free of charge. However, the judges, state attorneys, and police officers responsible for criminal street harassment cases are the same personnel who have often notoriously failed to take seriously even cases of brutal sexual assault. Thus, women may be reluctant or unable to bring such cases in criminal court.

Potential criminal remedies include:

* Assault
* State statutes prohibiting harassment in public places. For New York’s statute, click here (i'll search for CT asap).
* “Fighting words” statutes
* Anti-stalking statutes

Civil Remedies

Civil remedies have the benefit of monetary compensation in the form of damages. If sufficiently large, such damages may provide a larger deterrent than criminal prosecution alone.

Potential civil remedies include:

* Assault
* Intentional infliction of emotional distress
* Invasion of Privacy

Failures of Current Remedies

None of these remedies have yet been very useful in combating street harassment. This is in large part due to the effects of racism and sexism on the courts’ application of the law.


Consider an early criminal case in which the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the assault conviction of a black man who harassed a fifteen-year-old white girl on the street. In its decision, the court stated, “[a] negro man, using this foul indecent language towards a young white girl, as a matter of common knowledge, would create apprehension and fear.” State v. Williams, 120 S.E. 224, 228 (N.C. 1923).

However, courts have been willing to react quite differently when the harasser is white and the targeted woman is black. In one New York criminal harassment case, the defendant, described by the court as a “lone white suburban male,” backed his “expensive foreign car” along a curb at 3 a.m. and solicited three black women he allegedly believed to be prostitutes. Harassment charges against him were dismissed, though, on the grounds that it was not his intent to annoy, but only to seek “female companionship.” This decision neatly dovetails with the common racist stereotypes regarding the sexual promiscuity and accessibility of women of color.

Sexism and the “Reasonable Man” Standard

New York, like a number of states, actually has a statute that specifically prohibits harassment. According to the court in the above case, however, although the man’s behavior might technically be prohibited by the statute, the statute must be read as barring only “‘language or conduct . . . by its nature . . . of a sort that is a substantial interference with (our old friend) the reasonable man.’” People v. Malausky, 485 N.Y.S.2d 925, 927-28 (Rochester City Ct. 1985).

This is known as the “reasonable man standard,” a legal decision-making approach in which the court asks how a reasonable man would act under the circumstances. Although today the terminology has been altered to “reasonable person,” decision-makers nevertheless often ignore the experiences of women and other historically subordinated groups in applying this standard.

In this case, for instance, the court felt that “a reasonable man” would not consider the solicitation to prostitution by a wealthy white man on the street at night a substantial interference for a black woman. The court’s old friend “the reasonable man” is clearly no friend of ours. This case illustrates the sexist fashion in which the reasonable man standard (as well as the revised reasonable person standard) is likely to be applied by a mostly male judiciary, and the race and class biases ubiquitous in the enforcement of anti-harassment statutes.

Street Harassment as Trivial

There exist very few reported street harassment cases in which convictions have been upheld. As a dissenting judge in one of these rare examples indicated, it seems to be the pervasiveness of street harassment that contributes to its neglect by the law. Referring to the fact that women are frequently assaulted with catcalls and sexual suggestions, he asserted that a mere indecent request was insufficient to violate the anti-harassment statute in question. Commonwealth v. Duncan, 363 A.2d 803, 804-05 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1976). He also felt it would be unwise to criminalize such behavior because: “(1) the state runs the risk of criminalizing generally accepted behavior, leaving the actor without reasonable notice that his conduct is criminal; (2) such incidents are too frequent for a justice system to handle them efficiently; (3) courts cannot be expected to arbitrate what are frequently personal disputes by use of the criminal process.” Duncan at 804-05. Since street harassment is so widespread and generally regarded as trivial, this judge feels that there is no reason to do anything about it legally.

The same attitudes that permit and foster street harassment in the first place thus also permeate the legal system, creating a serious impediment to the successful use of any existing remedies against street harassment. Take for example the civil remedy of “intentional infliction of emotional distress, which is defined as “extreme and outrageous conduct [that] intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to another,” Restatement (Second) of Torts. Street harassment as experienced by countless women clearly fits this definition, yet there are few reported cases in which this remedy has been successfully used in a street harassment context. Much of the difficulty lies in establishing street harassment constitutes “extreme and outrageous conduct.” After all, if street harassment was generally regarded as “extreme and outrageous,” it wouldn’t present such an omnipresent problem.

However, common carriers and hotels have a higher responsibility for the actions of their employees and, in some cases, even their patrons if the company in question was required to train employees to intervene in harassment situations. Thus, when a special relationship exists between the woman and defendant—such as guest and hotel, or passenger and common carrier— establishing liability involves proving only that the conduct was “gross” rather than “extreme and outrageous.”

This lower standard has enabled women to obtain damages from companies for the actions of their employees and patrons in some situations. Yet, as long as courts continue to view street harassment through a lens of complacency distorted by racist and sexist presumptions, legal redress will be difficult to obtain for most of those forced to endure such harassment.

Further Resources:

Crime Prevention Resources
Crime Victim Resources
Annotated Bibliography: Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence

This is stolen entirely from the wonderful men and women at HollaBackNYC

Street Harassment: The Failure of the Law to Protect Women

Although compiled by HollabackNYC’s legal team, this document is an informational resource, not legal advice. If you are considering legal action, contact an attorney who specializes in harassment law and who can advise you on the particulars of your case.

The law has historically failed to take seriously numerous issues affecting women’s lives, and street harassment is no exception. Although several legal remedies could potentially be employed to combat street harassment, the current state of the legal system makes success highly unlikely.

Judges, legislators, and other decision-makers—mostly male—have generally understood street harassment as a trivial occurrence and thus not within the proper scope of the law. In turn, even laws already on the books that prohibit intimidation and harassment are rarely interpreted to address the harms of street harassment experienced by women. The application of existing legal remedies to street harassment experienced by LGBTQ individuals is an even more remote possibility, although legislation prohibiting hate crimes and hate speech may provide additional recourse in these cases. For more information on this, click here.

Given the shortcomings of the law in this arena, a number of legal scholars and activists have suggested specific legal reforms that have yet to be implemented. For a thorough review of current legal concepts used against street harassment and their failures, as well as proposed remedies, see Cynthia Grant Bowman’s “Street Harassment and the Informal Ghettoization of Women,” published in the Harvard Law Review and available here.