Yesterday the Evening Standard shared with London the story Pagan Lilley Motlagh-Phillps. The telling of her powerful story is so important and we commend this paper for telling it – more importantly we want to acknowledge Pagan’s strength in speaking out.
Her experience of harassment reminds us to respect survivors and their survival mechanisms. So often women and non-binary people are told that there is a set way to respond to harassment. We are sometimes told that one way to respond is to ignore those who harasses. This does not always work, but sometimes it does.
For Pagan ignoring her harassers did not work, and her story consequently forces us to remember that the onus to respond to harassers should never be on those who experience harassment. Harassment exists upon a continuum of violence against women and girls. It is one of 8 strands of violence which flow between each other, and which women and non-binary people experience every single day.
It is time that we start to truly challenge the roots of this violence rather than staying on the surface. We have to focus our blame and judgement on those who harass and enact this violence. We have to respond to and criticise their choices, not the actions of survivors.
What happened to Pagan was horrendous, but this is the reality of what women and non-binary people live with every day. At Hollaback we stand in solidarity with all who experience harassment and violence, and hope that with constant pressure and the sharing of stories we can alter this system of oppression.
New submission from Anonymous:
It was 9:40pm and I was walking home from the bus stop. I seemed to recall seeing a guy in a white shirt near the bus stop and he leaned forward towards me as I walked past. I didn’t hear him say anything because I had my headphones on. 300 meters later, I heard someone ran towards me and said “Excuse me, can I talk to you for a minute?”
I stopped walking and turned to him to see if he needed any help. Turned out he wanted to start a chat. I thanked him for his interest and replied that I would like to go home as my friend is waiting. I opened the gate to my building and he kept the door open and tried to follow me into the building.
I stopped and said, “What is this for? Why are you coming into someone’s building?”
He was being persistent and kept insisting that he just want to have a talk with me. “I just want to talk to you and I am asking you in the nicest way possible.”
This was when I noticed that he was holding a glass bottle with him. Not sure if he has been drinking but the whole situation made me feel vulnerable and threatened.
I said “Thank you again but I need to go home.” While I started walking away towards the stairs, he said “Hey, why are you walking away from me?”
I walked as quickly as possible, opened my apartment and locked myself in, wished that he did not follow me in or figured out which unit I live in.
Last month, The Everyday Sexism Project and the End Violence Against Women Coalition launched their #SRENow campaign, and Hollaback London would like to state our full support for their call to make Sex and Relationships Education compulsory in all schools. We believe every child deserves simple, clear information about their rights, consent, and healthy relationships. Just as education is a fundamental human right, so too is education about sex and relationships, about our own bodies and how to respect other bodies.
The Women and Equalities Committee’s report into sexual harassment in schools speaks to the shocking truth that many girls and non-binary young people experience. A key part of Hollaback London’s work is story sharing, so we welcome the fact that the core of the report and call for #SRENow is based on what young people have told us. The report highlights how many young people, particularly girls, experience a daily routine of normalised harassment; from catcalls to groping to what are typically classified as more serious sex crimes. 5500 sex crimes in UK schools were reported to the police in 2012-2015, including 600 rapes. Taking into account the average length of the school term, that adds up to one rape reported in a UK school every school day. It’s impossible for young people to be confident in their rights to their own body when information about healthy sexual experiences isn’t available, and the information they’re getting from harmful stereotypes seen everyday in the media only serves to confuse and contort ideas about sex and relationships. Slutshaming and “laddish” peer pressure are currently accepted as core factors of the teenage school experience, and that doesn’t need to be the case.
A myth currently pervading about SRE is that our children are too young to be learning about sex, that this kind of education would intrude and teach them things they would have no prior experience of, that it could come dangerously early in their sexual lives. This simply isn’t true: A recent BBC survey revealed that a quarter of 12-year olds and 60% of 14-year olds had seen online pornography. At Hollaback London, we regularly receive reports of street harassment, workplace harassment, and classroom harassment – perpetrated by fellow students and by older men around the school – from teenage girls. It’s entirely possible to deliver this education in simple, age-appropriate ways, and there are already expertly trained outside organisations and specialised PSHE teachers well equipped to deliver this information, if only the resources and mandate in the curriculum were instated.
To end street harassment and all forms of violence against women and girls, we know that we need a cultural, social shift in attitudes to these acts. This starts at schools, when children are beginning to explore their sexual identities and beginning to understand their rights to their own bodies. #SRENow have done the research and every expert says compulsory Sex and Relationships Education is where we need to start. It can no longer be left up to chance whether a girl can identify if she has been raped or not, if a boy knows how to respond to a partner who says “no”, if an LGBTQIA child has any information on how to have healthy sex that isn’t just a description of heterosexual reproduction – these biological basics are currently the only thing schools are required to teach.
We firmly believe that if people were better educated from youth about communicating in a healthy way about sex and relationships, enabled to have healthy understandings of their own sexual identity and the diversity of others’ identities, to have clear understandings of consent and boundaries, the fight to end street harassment would be one big step closer to success.
Demand compulsory SRE now by signing the campaign’s petition, emailing Education Secretary Justine Greening or tweeting her. Find out more at sre.now.org and read the open letter to the Prime Minister and Education Secretary signed by Hollaback London’s co-founder, Bryony Beynon.
This weekend brought with it the launch of London’s Night Tube. Many of you may well have been excited about this, and we were too, but you may also have felt anxious about travelling on the Tube late at night. We wanted to let you know that this feeling is normal and you are not alone.
Around 90% of women experience some form of harassment on a regular basis, and this does not stop on the Tube. In fact last year there were 1,961 incidents of different forms of sexual violence recorded on the Tube – a 41% increase from last year. Notably these reported incidents only brush upon the surface of the scale of what women, girls and non-binary people experience. This is because many marginalised people will never feel able to report their experience of sexual harassment due to the intersecting complexities that surround reporting. Simply put – reporting is often hard, overwhelming, stressful, and places the burden of responsibility on those who experience harassment.
Transport for London (TFL) has done a great job in trying to ensure women and girls feel safe when travelling on the Tube, and we were pleased to have witnessed British Transport Police (BTP) and TFL stick to their word in regards to increasing the police presence across the stations that were open for the Night Tube. That being said, we are also really aware that police visibility is not a real answer to the violence that women and girls experience on public transport – sexual harassment is a deeply engrained problem within our culture, and this cannot be solved by a criminal justice system that routinely fails women and girls. An increase in police does not always make you feel safer, and it also cannot do this in all instances. This is especially true if you have had a bad experience with the police or if you are unable to say anything before, during, or after you experience harassment or violence.
Harassment and violence on public transport, especially on public transport at night, is likely to follow on from many experiences of aggressive sexual advances, groping, being followed, or any number of violence intrusions while trying to enjoy a night out. As a person experiencing harassment you may feel like someone is invading your space. You might feel like someone is saying things that are not ok. You may feel powerless, exhausted or frustrated. You may also feel silenced and like no one will step in. The most important thing to remember is that if you feel like someone is making you uncomfortable then that is something they are choosing to do – they are not flattering you or complimenting you and you are not misunderstanding them. They are consciously making a choice to harass or assault you. And that is not ok.
To those who witness and partake in harassment and violence on transport, and specifically on the Night Tube, it is vital to remember that something that may seem like flirting or fun to some passengers is experienced very differently by those who have already been dealing with harassment on a daily basis – and have most likely already been harassed that evening. We urge all passengers to be mindful of how their behavior can affect those who live with street harassment and gendered violence regularly, and we also encourage you to speak out and support those who appear uncomfortable. Important point: even if you think they should, NEVER pressure someone into reporting to the police. There are lots of reasons a person may not want to report what happened, and it should be their decision alone what they do. If they do ask for help in doing so, take their lead on that. Bystander intervention is powerful and challenges a culture that often legitimises violence against women and girls. That being said, intervention should always be survivor-centered and led by those who are marginalised.
At Hollaback London we are committed to ensuring that your stories are told, and also that your voices weave through any collective action we take to stop sexual harassment. If you do experience anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe on the Tube let us know. The best way to do this is by using our online mapping software on ldn.ihollaback.org. Our website will ask you for a location, so if you feel comfortable sharing this just use the nearest Tube stop and note in your description that this happened on the Night Tube. If you prefer you can get in touch via twitter, tweet us @hollabackLDN and/or use the hashtag #NightTube. If you feel able to you can also report your experiences to the police or anonymously to ‘Report it to Stop’ it here: http://report-it.tumblr.com.
Speaking out about what we endure on a daily basis is hard and exhausting, so it is also totally ok if you don’t get in touch. We are with you in spirit and you are not alone.
The Hollaback London Team
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The Hollaback London Collective stands in full solidarity with those experiencing racialised, xenophobic harassment on our streets, both since the EU Referendum result and since, well, forever.
While heightened anti-migrant sentiment is creating an especially toxic environment, we must remember that street harassment is a daily reality regardless of current political developments, and women and LGBTQ people (especially those who are BME/of colour) are often the first to experience this abuse.
So. You want to help. You’re not a superhero, but you can show support in lots of ways beyond wearing a safety pin, which can seem more about promoting one’s own sense of identity as ‘anti-racist’ than it is about stopping hateful behaviour in its tracks. Standing silently with your phone recording may help an incident go viral later, but does nothing to reduce the trauma and alienation that happen when a person is targeted for hate. Decide which is more important to you.
If you witness harassment, you CAN step in safely as a bystander.
Here are some useful tips:
“Noone needs to hear that, you can stop right now”
“You do not speak for everyone else here”
“That is not acceptable”
“Noone wants to hear your opinion”
are some direct, clear non-escalating statements.
Since 2010, Hollaback London has been fighting street harassment. Whether we’re collecting stories via our app and website, speaking on TV, running workshops or training venues through our now International Good Night Out campaign, we are passionate about ending harassment. We raise awareness how it affects women including LGBTQ+ people around the capital, promote bystander intervention and campaign for safer public space. And we need your help!
After years of working as two or three people, we’ve decided to assemble a collaborative collective to help take this message to the streets! Whether you have a few hours a month to support at events and do some tweeting, or you really want to get stuck in with our partnerships and projects, there’s room for you. You’ll meet amazing activists from around the world, there’s media work to be done, space to take up and skills to gain!
If you’re interested in gaining activist and campaigning skills, or you already have them and want to apply them to a very ambitious project that is part of a growing global movement, then we would love to hear from you about your ideas, experience and how much time you have to give.
We are committed to raising funds to pay people for their time wherever possible, but right now this work is all volunteer. Whenever we are offered donations we use this to pay expenses and buy resources.
We will have a meeting in June 2016 that brings everyone together to kick off this exciting new phase of the project.
Sign up / register your interest here
On 31st March, myself (Bryony) and Julia were lucky enough to be invited to a workshop all about Diversity and tactics in street harassment activism, held in Cairo, Egypt! The session was coordinated by Elisa Wynne-Hughes (Cardiff University), Karen Desborough and Jutta Weldes (University of Bristol) and funded by the Independent Social Research Foundation.
The high ceilings of our beautiful seminar room at AUC (American University in Cairo) Tahrir Square campus echoed laughter and discussion for a full day of tactics and strategies sharing, considering questions such as ‘who is included and excluded by different tactical approaches to combatting street harassment?’ Both groups were overwhelmed by the similarities of the struggles and challenges we face, in spite of our massively different urban and cultural contexts.
Both groups began by sharing our tactics and approaches with a short presentation. We were really interested in the clear structure of HarassMap’s work, as we look to move from sharing work between a small pool of volunteers into a more collective working model with clearer guidelines on who’s doing what. HarassMap asked us about how we use our map, and we both shared tales of the difficulties of getting both the British and Egyptian media to cover the issue of street harassment in a full, frank and appropriate way that is not sensationalist – the struggle continues on that one!
Julia and I then facilitated an exercise about the myths that come up around harassment, asking who these myths protect, and who they silence. We learnt that HarassMap do on the ground outreach through their Community Mobilization programme, and even have a manual full of the excuses that people will give for harassment, so that their volunteers can have a quick come back to each and every one! We were hugely impressed by this work, particularly given the additional difficulties faced by HarassMap in ensuring that their work is not seen as a political demonstration and thus investigated by the Government. We were very keen to put some of their direct community action strategies into action back in London. They had lots of myths to share:
After lunch, we moved on to discussing who our audiences are. Both Julia and I and the HarassMap team noted that while our intended audience would always be inclusive i.e. anyone who experiences sexual assault and harassment or cares about it, the actual audience of our work is sometimes limited to those already engaged with urban justice issues and community security issues, or broader gender and public space issues, who are often those who are less likely to be facing additional marginalisations. We discussed what we could do address this. I personally learnt a lot from our very interesting conversation about how the extreme marginalisation of Egypt’s LGBT community (see this article for context) means that a strategy is adopted of resisting visibility for safety reasons, which in turn means that lumping ‘women and LGBT people’ together as per our own messaging would have very different connotations and consequences here in Cairo. I thought back to how one of the first things our AirBnB host asked us was if Julia and I were a couple, as she said it was illegal in Egypt. While there are actually there are no direct laws prohibiting same sex acts, laws around Public Order and “Public Morality” are frequently used to arrest LGBT people.
Likewise, we discussed how the dominance of some North American social justice and feminist terms in online circles are not equally used and useful in all contexts, e.g. in Cairo, a city of 11 million where 99.6% are ethnically Egyptian, the use of the term women of colour to denote an ethnic minority is not as helpful. HarassMap’s Communications Director Alia discussed how important it is to always include issues of race and religion when we discuss harassment, explaining that they would use an intersectional approach to address for example, that the type of street harassment that an Ethiopian maid might experience on the street in Cairo would likely reference her skin colour and status.
We spoke at length in the closing session about how both our projects attempt to navigate advocating for community change whilst interacting or not interacting with the police and the state in our respective countries in very different ways. The day taught us so much about the value and importance of finding and sharing common ground with other activists doing this work in other cities, to learn from each other, reflect on our tactics, successes and shortcomings, and share ideas. Above all, this day was a magical reminder of the power of solidarity across genders, cultures and cities in the fight against not only street harassment but all forms of violence.
We ended our day with a meal at the delicious Taboula in the Garden City area of Cairo, a stone’s throw from Tahrir Square, and wished our new friends farewell after an amazing day.
This week, I (Bryony) sat on the Policing and Crime panel at the London Assembly, whose role it is to scrutinise and look at the efficacy of City Hall policy, alongside End Violence Against Women Coalition, London Travel Watch, the former head of BTP and Suzy Lamplugh Trust. I was able to explain to them the joy but also some of the frustrations we have had in watching Project Guardian’s progress over the last few years, since we were invited to sit on the advisory board in 2012. I asked assembly members for support in our continued lobbying for some kind of public, real world, network-based messaging about sexual offences on public transport.
We have really put the work in to represent women and LGBT people who experience harassment, and share their concerns in a whole host of different contexts, from executive roundtables at the Department for Transport, to British Transport Police presentations, academic conferences, BBC London, BBC News and more regional radio shows than you can name. We’ve worked a lot wih Dr. Jackie Gray at Middlesex University, whose team created a rapid impact assessment looking at every study of every intervention on public transport aimed at reducing. Entitled ‘“What works” in reducing sexual harassment and sexual behaviour on public transport Nationally and Internationally“, the report showed that, amongst a plethora of other useful measures, including better design of carriages and bus stops, poster awareness campaigns do help passenger to feel safer.
The rapid impact assessment was commissioned by BTP, and yet this evidence base seems to have been brushed over by TfL. The social media work has already been very successful, see the recent 32.2% increase in recorded sexual offences on public transport, but the recognition of the campaign is still so low amongst women I speak to about harassment every day.
Earlier this year, the Report it to Stop it video was launched. This excellent, hard-hitting video showed an incident on the tube, and asked viewers when they would report. It made plain the self-doubt and the fear that can contribute to underreporting of harassment and assault, and gave a real world example that didn’t stereotype. It was really effective:
But this video only appears as a digital ad targeted at 18-35 year old women. We believe that everyone, including men and children (we know that school journeys are often the site of sexual harassment for young girls) should receive these messages, and more importantly, we believe they need to appear ON BUSES, TRAINS AND TUBES!
Just as TfL is happy to share messages that assaults on staff on trains will be taken seriously, it does this on the trains where it can happen, not on Youtube! Messages about pickpocketing are considered important enough to appear on buses, trains, trams, so why not sexual assault?
I put these questions to TfL Communications department team earlier this year, over three years since my involvement on the advisory board of Project Guardian. Clearly this is a very carefully constructed campaign, and I was reassured that it is long term and that methods could change, but was also told that there were currently no plans to take the message beyond the social media world, largely due to two key concerns:
That a message that mentions sexual offences may put women off using the network
The issue of fear of crime reducing travel is an understandable issue for TfL, of course, and this fear comes from a respondent at a focus group who, when shown a poster from an American city, said it would put her off travelling. We know this because we helped the market research company to write the questions! The video is awesome and has had some brilliant feedback, so let’s get it out there on the network now, instead of just hoping that women will not have Ad-block installed and may see a video online and make the effort to save 61016 in their phone.
All of these hours of research and work has been unpaid, because I want my city to be safer. It’s time to ask #wherearetheposters. Take a selfie on public transport, wherever you are, and use the hashtag #wherearetheposters if you believe women and LGBT deserve safety while travelling.
An AMAZING lineup at CLEAR LINES Festival next week, make sure you head down. It’s free!
Clear Lines Festival brings together comedians, performers, journalists, writers, visual artists, cartoonists, psychologists, activists, therapists, and the public in a vibrant, very human exploration of themes around sexual abuse, sexual violence, and consent.
Festival highlights include:
• Activists from Southall Black Sisters, Femme Fierce and the #thisdoesntmeanyes campaign discussing the use of creativity in challenging sexual violence
• Journalists from the BBC and Telegraph debating media coverage of sexual assault, and how reporting can be improved
• Screenings of the BAFTA-nominated ‘The Unspeakable Crime: Rape’ and Emmy-nominated documentary ‘Brave Miss World’, followed by director Q&As
• A stellar line-up of comedians poking fun at some of our cultural attitudes about rape and sexuality, including Josie-Long, Sarah Kendall and Tiff Stevenson
• Discussion of revenge porn and online harassment by experts from the international law firm McAllister Olivarius
It’s the UK’s first-ever festival of this kind, and we have an ambitious and exciting programme. Everyone is welcome to attend. Most events are free but booking is required as space is limited.
– Laura Bates from Everyday Sexism Project
– Emily May, executive director of HollaBack!
– Susuana Antubam, NUS National Women’s Officer, discussing the fight against sexual violence on campus
– Samayya Afzal, UBU Women’s Liberation Officer on Muslim Women’s perspectives of Street Harassment
– A speaker from the Sex Worker Open University on Stigma in the Streets, Worker’s Rights between the Sheets: Sex workers in public space
– Hollaback! site leaders from around the world putting these issues into local context, from the Bahamas to New Orleans and beyond!
– A one-off special interactive musical performance from Richard Phoenix and Jennifer Calleja of London post-punk band Sauna Youth.