Podcast: Standing Up To Street Harassment

Warning: this podcast contains some explicit language.

A crowd of about 100 people rallied in front of a 12-foot-tall blow-up cat with the words “Cats Against Cat Calls” written in white letters on its side. One by one, speakers came up to a microphone, their voices ringing through Washington Square Park as they talked about inappropriate comments men had made to them, and called for an end to harassment on New York City’s streets. Others held bright orange and pink signs, while rally volunteers wrote messages against sexist remarks on the pavement.

The rally, held on April 5, was one of the culminating events of International Anti-Street Harassment Week. It was organized to both raise awareness of the comments that women and members of the Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, and Transgender, (LGBT) community face on the street, and to encourage people to condemn harassers publicly for making inappropriate comments. The rally was organized in part by a Brooklyn-based advocacy organization called Hollaback!, along with more than 40 other co-sponsors, said Emily May, Hollaback!’s current leader and co-founder.

Several people in the crowd said they had either experienced harassment or witnessed someone being hassled. Nefertiti Bridges, 30, recalled how a man told her he wanted to impregnate her as she was commuting home late at night. Sixteen-year-old Kafilah Muhammad was walking through the park with a couple of friends when she saw the crowd. She said men often make comments about her butt or her clothing when she is out walking with her friends. “I get really grossed out,” she said.

City Councilman Stephen Levin, who represents parts of northern Brooklyn, and Public Advocate Letitia James, were also in attendance. “If somebody is harassing somebody, on the subway, on the street, you know it’s against the law and they need to be held accountable for it,” said Levin.

Levin said he would support allocating more resources to the New York Police Department to better train police to handle harassment allegations.

In her speech, James urged attendees to stand up to harassers. “We are more than our bodies,” she said. “We will not be defined by anyone else, but who we are inside, and we will not allow anyone to defile us or to reduce us…”

After two hours of speakers and performances, the rally broke up into small workshops and ended with participants taking chalk to write messages against harassment on the sidewalks around the park.