Hollaback! Vancouver puts anti-street harassment on the map

Stacey Forrester is making strides for Vancouverites, while acting as an inspiring leader along the way

By Marissa Del Mistro
@_not_marissa

Exasperated women are constantly navigating the streets like an untrustworthy tightrope. One foot in front of the other, balancing the rational fear of being subjected to unwelcome attention while manoeuvring through public spaces.

Street harassment is any interpersonal interaction that lacks consent. These events exist of the dis-empowering expectation that certain bodies or identities are always consenting. Despite happening in public, these incidents can feel like private, vulnerable moments.

Stacey Forrester, Vancouver organizer for Hollaback! echoes the realities of many women.

“I have dealt with street harassment since the day I woke up and had boobs,” Forrester exclaims.

Hollaback! is a crowd-sourced initiative working to put an end to street harassment. Centred on an easy-to-use smartphone app, it’s a safe and accessible forum. After plugging in your city, you can share you story with other Vancouverites on an interactive map. If you witness or experience any form of street harassment, your experience will appear as a pink dot in the area of the city that it occurred.

Hollaback! Vancouver is actively working to adjust the discourse surrounding street harassment. The program exists in over 20 countries worldwide, demonstrating that it’s hardly an issue specific to one place. Somewhere along the way, a wrongful normalcy of street harassment has numbed its severity, making bystanders mute and women question whether they provoked it.

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Forrester began to notice a pattern in the stories on the Hollaback! Vancouver app.

Women were experiencing a great deal of harassment during Vancouver’s nightlife, thus propelling sister-company, Good Night Out.

“If you were at work, and some guy was relentlessly grinding you on the Xerox machine, it would be incredibly inappropriate,” stated Forrester. “We want women to have more of a role in nightlife than [being] props.”

Consent does not alter its definition in the context of a club. By auditing various establishments, Good Night Out defines how safe they are for women, and what policies are in place for harassment prevention. Once a pub or bar becomes a certified location, patrons know that they can safely seek help from staff.

Hollback! Vancouver is genuinely hearing what the women of Vancouver are struggling with. Realities are vastly different and adequate diversity in stories, trauma, and past helps to form a greater understanding to further change.

Intersectionality is crucial. By ignoring the role that race, sexual orientation,gender identity, body size, disability, or any other element plays in street harassment, we only serve to further oppress others.

“I do think that men hold a big secret key to un-doing the problem of street harassment,” explained Forrester.

Indeed, not every man partakes in this behaviour. Yet there are many men who remain silent witnesses. Perhaps the behaviour has been brushed off by “boys will be boys,” only negatively spreading that manhood is solely defined by sexual aggression. Instead, tell a friend what they’re doing is wrong or engage with programs like Hollaback!

Raising a voice to challenge cultural norms in daily interactions is a powerful inspiration for others.

“It’s much easier to change cultural norms at this side. Start over here, with the little, smaller norms that have become just a normal part of life,” Forrester confirmed.

Looking at the interactive map on the Hollaback! Vancouver app can be overwhelming. But is it all bad news?

A lesser known feature on the app is the placement of a green dot. The green dot, in contrast to the pink, signifies when someone has intervened, or a business let you hide out without making you buy anything. In short, it symbolizes small acts that have made a harassment situation culminate in a different ending.

Presently, Vancouver has two green dots. These green dots symbolize what can be. The intention is to one day see the map filled with green dots, to paint a mosaic of real change and just endings for people’s unwelcome interactions.

April 10 to 16 is International Street Harassment week and Hollaback! has some great plans. After downloading their free app, make sure to check out their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates and events.

Goodnight Out is hosting an all inclusive, safe space, sweaty dance party to wind down the week on April 15 at Red Gate.

 

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Marissa is guacamole’s #1 fan. She is a wannabe skateboarder, aspiring children’s book author, and the future wife of Matt Corby.