If you see someone being harassed on the street, what would you do?
Rebecca Faria has a few suggestions, and many other ideas for helping people feel safer on Halifax’s streets.
That’s why she started a Halifax Hollaback! chapter in April.
Hollaback is a global movement with a mandate to ending street harassment using mobile technology. The Halifax chapter has an active presence on Twitter (@HollabackHRM) and Facebook and offers a wealth of information via its website (http://halifax.ihollaback.org/).
“(Hollaback!) gives a place for people to share stories of street harassment, whether it has happened to them or whether they have witnessed it,” Faria said. “We want to ensure that everyone has access to public spaces, and that people realize what it can be like to be a woman or a queer person in public spaces.”
Faria said while street harassment is one of the most pervasive forms of gender-based violence, it is also one of the least legislated against.
“Comments from ‘You’d look good on me’ to groping, flashing and assault are a daily, global reality for women and LGBTQ individuals,” the Hollaback! website notes. “But it is rarely reported, and it’s culturally accepted as ‘the price you pay’ for being a woman or for being gay. At Hollaback!, we don’t buy it.”
Neither did Faria. Having lived in several cities big and small, she personally experienced street harassment in all but one city. She said that was because she was only there for six weeks.
When she heard about the Hollaback! movement, she jumped on board, attending a series of webinar classes before launching the site.
“Part of this is figuring out what this looks like in Halifax, not just my personal experiences but everyone’s,” Faria said. “Once we figure out what it looks like we can provide that information to people designing policy for our public spaces.”
Although word is just spreading about Hollaback! Halifax, a picture is emerging. Not surprisingly, much of the harassment being reported takes place in high density areas and along major transit routes. But it’s not all taking place around the downtown bars or in specific communities. It’s happening everywhere.
Most of the harassment being reported is verbal and ranges from people having explicit things shouted at them from passing vehicles to people being spoken to in ways that could be interpreted as threatening.
“I’ve recorded several reports from women running or riding bikes (who have been harassed),” she said. “This is an example of one of the ways street harassment can impact someone’s health. If you don’t feel comfortable going out in your neighbourhood or at certain times because you don’t feel safe.”
An example of how changing a public space transformed how people felt about it was the addition of the oval to the Halifax Commons. Faria recalled how fearful she was at the idea of walking through the area at night, until she was forced to do it during the transit strike.
“That space had been transformed and become a community. People were there drinking hot chocolate, skating with their kids, so that a place that had been foreboding became welcoming,” she recalled.
“It would be interesting to see where else we could have that transformation in Halifax.”
Reporting street harassment to Hollaback! is easily done online and anonymously via the website. Ideas on how to support someone you witness being harassed on the street can be found at http://halifax.ihollaback.org/about/ive-got-your-back/ .