Commentary: Help Hollaback! end street harassment

January 24, 2014 

  • About Youth Against Rape Culture

    “YARC is a youth-led, adult-supported collective of activists committed to ending street harassment and all other forms of oppression – those that are public and those that are lived in private,” the group says. “Our members use humor, creativity, and sharp wit to take down rape culture wherever it shows up. Our work is supported by the Orange County Rape Crisis Center in Chapel Hill.”

Hollaback! Durham & Chapel Hill organizers are excited to announce that our chapter has launched. Hollaback! is an international organization dedicated to ending street harassment. We’re thrilled to be launching a new site in the 919!

Site leaders from the teen-led Youth Against Rape Culture (YARC) activist collective have a lot to say about how street harassment affects the lives of young people in the area. “I was harassed by a guy on Franklin Street when I was 11 years old,” says organizer and Chapel Hill High School senior Hannah Hodge. “It’s messed up that some creep on the corner catcalling is what made me feel like a woman.”

Ms. Hodge’s experience of harassment is not unique. Street harassment is a problem that affects all communities, and small towns like Durham and Chapel Hill are not immune. Whether it’s a stranger leering at the park or a driver yelling lewd comments as they drive past, harassment affects how women, young people and queer-identified folks experience public space. According to a 2000 survey 87 percent of American women respondents had been harassed by a male stranger; nearly half had experienced “extreme harassment” such as groping, following, or assault. Harassment is experienced even more often by LGBTQ-identified individuals, who are commonly left out of mainstream discussions of harassment.

Hollaback! 919 organizers want the community to start taking it seriously. Harassment – whether it’s sexist, racist or homophobic – gets its power from the threat of violence that lingers behind it.

Youth organizers from YARC have enjoyed support from mentors at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center. Executive director Shamecca Bryant explains the OCRCC’s interest in supporting this campaign: “We recognize the role that street harassment plays in creating a culture of violence against women and violence against marginalized individuals. We see our work as complementary to Hollaback and their mission to shine a light on the seriousness of street harassment.”

Hollaback! Durham & Chapel Hill presents an empowered response to street harassment.

“Hollaback is working to turn the gaze back on the harassers,” says fellow organizer and Chapel Hill High School junior Elena Thorpe. “It shouldn’t be our job to ‘stay safe’ from harassment – it’s the community’s job to keep public spaces safe.”

As the new site launches, organizers hope to engage community activists in building both online and street level actions to end street harassment. On the new website, visitors can share their stories of harassment, show support for victims, and learn empowering ways to “hollaback” at harassment through words, art, and activism. Plans for the new year include organizing a youth spoken word event and a street art campaign calling attention to street harassment where it occurs.

“Everyone has a role to play in fighting street harassment, whether you’re a victim, a bystander, or a community member who wants safer streets,” says Thorpe.

Find out more about the Hollaback! movement and ways to get involved by visiting the fresh new website : www.durhamandchapelhill.ihollaback.org.

Hannah Hodge and Elena Thorpe are Hollaback! site leaders and organizers with the Youth Against Rape Culture (in addition to being full-time students at Chapel Hill High School). Rachel Valentine is the rape-prevention education coordinator for the Orange County Rape Crisis Center.

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