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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Striking Hollaback

Posted By on Wed, May 16, 2012 at 7:11 PM

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Marginal Road by the piers. Spring Garden in front of the Law Courts. The Quinpool rotary. All of these are locations of street harassment that have gone unreported---until now.

Halifax is one of the newest additions to the Hollaback online movement against street harassment, joining the likes of 52 other sites around the world with halifax.ihollaback.org. "I had personally experienced street harassment in pretty much every city I lived in, including Halifax, unfortunately," says local Hollaback director Rebecca Faria, "and I think there's a real need for Hollaback here."

You may not be familiar with the term street harassment, but if you're a woman or a member of the LGBTQ community, you've likely experienced it. Hollaback defines street harassment as anything from vulgar comments and gestures, to groping, to public masturbation, and one study of over 12,000 Canadian women found that 80 percent had suffered some form of it.

"We view ourselves as where workplace harassment was before the 1980s," says Veronica Pinto, Hollaback's international movement coordinator in New York. "It was something that people would just assume is part of their everyday working life and was accepted in workplace culture until people started challenging that." She says in a society that now condemns harassment in the home and workplace, the next step is to stop it in public spaces.

Started in 2005 in New York, Hollaback provides a blog where harassment victims can post their stories along with a map pinpointing the location of the incident. Some even upload photographs. Pinto describes the sharing of experience as "empowering" for both the victim and the cause.

Hollaback's new "I've Got Your Back" campaign has also drawn a lot of attention to the website. The organization paired with violence prevention group Green Dot to encourage safe bystander intervention.

Good bystander behaviour is also the goal of the Halifax Regional Police's "Men ending violence against women" campaign. Launched in time for May's Sexual Assault Awareness month, the campaign encourages bystander intervention when it comes to abusive attitudes and behaviours toward women.

But awareness aside, the law cannot provide much support for victims of street harassment. HRP constable Brian Palmeter says he read some of the stories on Halifax's Hollaback website: "They're unfortunate, awful circumstances, but it"---street harassment---"doesn't appear to meet the threshold of criminal offence."

Last year, the police logged 12 cases of "criminal harassment on the street," and Palmeter guesses they are not of the nature described by Hollaback. Instead, he says, "I would suspect the vast majority of them would be underreported."

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