CONGO: TESTIMONIES OF SURVIVORS & PERPETRATORS

Courtesy: IRIN Films


DO NOT MISS
this powerful documentary from IRIN on sexual violence in Congo.

Earlier this month the United Nations asked the government of Democratic Republic of the Congo to act on the incidents of rape and sexual assault on women and punish the perpetrators.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said “Despite an increase in the number of prosecutions of State agents for sexual violence in recent years, there is still a long way to go in the fight against impunity for sexual violence in the DRC.”

A new UNJHRO report says that there are over 3,600 victims of rape and sexual assault between 2010-2013 in the country.

Q&A with HollaBack! sexual harassment expert

 

Image

Photo Credit: Hollaback!

Debjani Roy, 36, of Manhattan, is the deputy director of Hollaback! For over a decade, Roy has been an advocate for women’s rights and equality, both in the U.S. and the U.K. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in gender and cultural studies.

By JONETTA BADILLO

Q. What is your definition of street sexual harassment?

A. They are a number of definitions. The official one that we use is unwanted sexual nature targeting people for their sexual gender identity. This sits on a spectrum of actions. It can start with something like verbal harassment, or luring, but can escalate to following, stalking, or obstructing someone’s path. Then it can escalate even further to things like groping, touching, brushing, then public exposure and masturbation. So acts like that are meant to target people based on their gender identity or expression. It’s based on the power imbalance where the person who’s doing the harassing is feeling like that public space is their space and that we’re just inhabiting that space. And therefore, they have the right to do whatever they want. But it happens on the street, around schools, around workplaces, and also on the subways, buses and other forms of public transportation. It’s not happening necessarily in a space that has policies centered around it. It’s something that happens in more open spaces.

Q. How common is street harassment really?

A. It is the most prevalent form of gender-based violence globally. It’s not well documented in terms of statistics and number, but if you look at the numbers of stories that have shared on our website since we started it’s over 5,000 stories. There are other projects around the world that are documenting stories and also mapping stories like Harass Map in Egypt, Everyday Sexism in the U.K. I heard yesterday that Everyday Sexism has about 50,000 stories. So it’s a very common problem, but it is the most under or unreported form of gender-based violence because it’s only recently that it’s been recognized as a form of gender based violence, and it hasn’t really been considered part of the spectrum. It’s something that’s been normalized, and we’ve been taught to accept and/or ignore. So we’re still in the phase of identifying it as a problem, and we’re doing that through the blogging platform and story sharing. It’s a global problem.

Q. Around what time period did the street harassment become an issue talked about in the news?

A. I would say in the last 10 years maybe. Street harassment has existed forever. But the term itself, if you look at Goggle analytics and look at the timeline, I think it’s 2005, when Holla Back started, you all noticed the rise in the term street harassment being used in media through searches. Up until today, you can see the spikes in conversations around street harassment. There were many initiatives in the last century where people were organizing around the issue through things like the anti flirting club. So it was identified as a problem, but the ways in which it was addressed was very different.

Domestic violence was addressed in the 70s, and there was a whole system that was created around responding to it. There was a lot of advocacy happening on the grounds, shelters starting opening. Work place harassment was a big issue of the 80s and a system was put in place to respond to that. So that’s happening right now around street harassment, in the very early stages of that. While there were efforts made prior to raise awareness, there wasn’t a whole systematic response around street harassment.

Q. Why do you think street harassment is so prevalent?

A. There are different expectations placed upon us based on what we’re born into sex wise and we’re assigned gender roles and are asked to perform these roles throughout our lives. It’s a big part of that dynamic, between gender identity and gender performance. It’s an issue of power. Traditionally women have not inhabited public spaces at least in the western world. It wasn’t until late modernity, that they started going out into the arcades and into public shopping areas unaccompanied. That was the first sort of safe time that women were allowed to inhabit public spaces in the west. In other parts of the world, like in Jordan for example, women have been historically accompanied in public spaces whether they were to run errands, go to the grocery store, to the bank, wherever. It’s very recent that women are going out on their own. So what’s happening when women who have been historically confined to private spaces inhabit public spaces, which are usually the domain of men and has been seen by owned by men, men feel they have the right to objectify them and comment on them. It’s kind of like an effort to remind women that the space is not theirs, that the streets are not theirs. There was also an issue in late modernity where you were either an affluent woman shopping in the arcade or if you were in public space you were considered a prostitute. So it’s the dichotomy of the ways in which women inhabit public space.

Q. What about people of the LGBTQI community? They’re also often victims of street harassment. 

A. That’s quite a different issue. That’s very much based on homophobia and hate. For straight gendered women, it’s a little bit in terms of how they experience harassment.. Street harassment is very much part of the greater issue of gender inequality and discrimination violence.

The issue with transwomen of color, especially in high profile cases like Islan Nettles, is it started with verbal comments. And then when it was realized that she was transwoman, it turned into whole thing of hate and fear. It made this very quick switch. It’s the whole questioning of ‘what are you?’ in terms of gender and sexuality that takes place, or that moment of realization on the harasser’s point. There’s constant questioning of that person’s identity and it comes from a place of hate and obviously homophobia. I think many transwomen of color are in a position of constant fear when walking down the street.

Q. Has your organization ever FOIA request to the NYPD to find out how many sexual harassment incidents against women and LGBTQI occur yearly? Why or why not?

A. No, we don’t work with police officers. We use community engagement, community based problem solving. We gather our own statistics. Our main goal is to create a space for people to share their stories. We’ve done a lot of mapping, surveying certain locales and talking at schools. We’re using this tool to identify this problem. There’s a wealth of data on our platform. Some other sites have done surveys on a more local level. The stories shared are used as a rich source of data to prove harassment is a problem. Hard numbers are just one way.

Q. On your site, it says street harassment is under-researched. Is it also underreported? Why?

A. I think a lot of people don’t know what it is. It’s so common. Some feminists don’t see it as an important issue as domestic violence, or sexual assault. What has to be done is everyone has to agree that it’s just as important. When it’s permitted, allowed and tolerated, it increases the threshold for all other forms of violence. It’s a systematic issue.

It’s something people only talk about with their friends. We don’t have to take this anymore. No more normalizing. We’re expecting a cultural change to take place.

Q. Have you ever been harassed on the street?

A. I have.

Q. What was it like? Where did it occur?

A. My story is I was born in England. My parents are Indian. I’ve lived in three countries, on three continents, and have harassed in all three. I experienced the worse street harassment in London.

The most recent incident occurred on way to work, on the 2/3 train on way to Brooklyn. There was a guy across from me in the subway car. He unfolded the free paper and was fumbling with his zipper. He was clear what he was trying to do. I was surprised, scared and shocked. I tried to get the attention of other people around me, but no one noticed. He was talking to himself, seemed agitated. I took a photo of him discreetly. He seemed like he was successful (in masturbating). I was hesitant to say anything to him in the enclosed space.

Not everyone takes street harassment as seriously as I do. It made me feel a whole lot better to report it on the Holla Back site. I did not report it to the police. A whole other issue I faced after posting it online was that people were pressuring me to go to the police. I didn’t want to deal with the questioning, and laughing. I received solidarity from the community.

Q. What are some of the feelings of women/ LGBT on street harassment?

A. Seems like everyone has a story. I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in Chelsea to do a training. The majority of the students are women of color. I asked if anyone had ever been harassed on the street in the beginning of the class and one or two students raised their hands, giggling.

At the end of the class, I asked the same question and everyone raised their hand. Everyone knows what they’ve experienced, there’s just never been a forum for people to voice that. And it does affect us.

That moment in the high school training was most memorable to me.

Q. Do they feel that sites like hollaback! and stop street harassment have helped to stop the problem?

A. It takes all of us to raise awareness about this. The power is really in all the people who shared their stories, but by doing it it’s being broadcast to millions of people. It’s about changing those numbers. These forums and spaces have shifted our understanding of what street harassment is and our acceptability.

Q. Why did you decide to become part of the HollaBack! ?

A. I’ve been working in gender-based violence for 10 years, but also more than that as an advocate. Learning that gender-based violence is so common, how it shapes who we are, and how we perform in the workplace and in the classroom shifted my movement. It shaped my identity in many ways. It does really impact how we see ourselves and what we become and who we can be.

Q. Why is this movement so important now?

A. It’s something that needed to be addressed. It was the right timing with all the blogging platforms, and social media. We do all our trainings online. It wouldn’t have been possible with technology.This is why the movement has grown so fast.

Q. Do you feel the necessary attention would be given to this issue if the movement had not started? Explain

A. No. It went from being a non-issue; something not recognized to something front and center. Site leaders around the world are really doing the important grassroots of the work. We had a rally with 15 cosponsors last year. This year we had 40 cosponsors. The newly elected public advocate came to rally this year too.

Q. Do you think advocates in countries have a tougher time fighting street harassment? Which ones, and how so?

A. Each site has its own set of barriers. It varies location to location, and depends on how accessible legislators are. There are diff climates in different places. The objective isn’t only to change the law, but change the culture.

Mainstream media portrays certain locations as being worse than other. I’ve had my worst experiences in London. It happens everywhere. It’s a different set of challenges, and consequences. A lot of efforts are being made in India too.

Q. Your smart phone app that tracks and maps street harassment, has it work as intended?

A. People have used it to share their stories, and we’ve been doing trainings in the districts where we’re funded. The mapping helps us understand where street harassment is taking place and what it looks like. The new iteration of the app allows people to forward the information to their city council members. There are no links to law enforcement.

 

 

Let’s Talk About Street Harassment

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On her way to Washington Square Park, Brisa Muñoz was carrying her guitar when a man said, “Hey pretty mama, why don’t you teach me how to play guitar?” Muñoz, the Artistic Director of the Applied Theatre Collective, who was on her way to a anti-street harassment rally didn’t answer. She later said, “In my head I was screaming ‘No I don’t want to!’”

What is street harassment?

Street harassment are unwelcoming comments, groping, flashing, or assault based on gender or sexual orientation in public spaces.

Street harassment is the most common form of sexual harassment and the one with the least laws written against it. There is not much research conducted about harassment in public spaces, but according to Hollaback studies estimate that 80-90% of women have been street harassed.

“I feel that it’s so appropriate to come together with people and discuss … not only what you wish you said in the moment but also what are the ways to keep yourself safe and how the people around you can help keep you safe,” said Muñoz. Muñoz got her masters in Applied Theatre in the City University of New York. Applied theatre uses drama techniques to address social issues and injustices. She led a music box protest as part of the rally.

“Music is such a great way to build community and build solidarity so not why stand up for ourselves in a way that’s fun and engaging,” she says.

Who are the most common victims of street harassment?

Academic and community studies show that women and members of the LGBT community are the most common victims of street harassment.

Lourdes Ashley Hunter was shocked by the sexual harassment in public spaces when she moved from Michigan to New York City.

Hunter is taking her masters in Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers, was at the rally to support the cause and represent her own organization: Trans Women of Color Collective of Greater New York.

She was the last speaker to talk and ended the rally by reading a poem by Sasha Banks titled, “Dear Brown Girl” from her smartphone:

Brown girl,
love the limb
and length of you:
your stone back, and
bullet mouth, your satin hips
and thick knuckles;
do not apologize for this
or open your hands
to beg forgiveness for your own
blood and bones.
Do not fix your mouth to say
that you are anything less
than everything. Say
that you are every possible
definition of beauty
and power. Say
you are the perfect
natural disaster.

The crowd cheered when she finished reading. She was surprised at the lack of women of color that attended while sitting on a bench admiring a pianist nearby. Her long dark braids shine against the sun. Hunter believes that it’s important to highlight the situation of trans-women being cat called. “The cat calling tends to leads to violence,” she explains what happens after an aggressor realizes that a woman he just cat called is trans.

Where do men stand?

“It’s guys that do it so we have to have an equal responsibility if not a greater one with woman and girls to work together to stop it from happening,” says Joe Samalin, a blogger for stopstreetharassment.org. Samalin says some of the best ways for men to help end street harassment is is to talk to women in their life that they trust and ask them about it, as well as, believing women when they say they have been a victim of street harassment or any type of sexual harassment.

Samalin believes that men’s role in stopping street harassment is not just about halting it in the moment. “It also has to be about really challenging the culture: identifying hot spots of harassment where you live and working in partnership with women and LGBTQ folks to let harassers know and men who do this know that it’s not okay in this neighborhood that we are not going to allow this anymore,” he says.

Continue the Conversation: tell us about your experience!

At Cat Call Back we want to learn more about street harassment and how it affects women all over the world. Share your stories with us so we can better report this topic.

Rachel Graves’ “Menagerie”: artists continue to speak up against street harassment

Rachel Graves is another artists that is using her work to speak up against street harassment through her series “Menagerie”.

The artist says:

There is an inextricable link between the domination and exploitation of women, and the domination and exploitation of animals.
Animals and women are objectified in similar ways: from the mass media fantasy images of impossibly proportioned women and happy cartoon cows and chickens, to the animal names and insults directed toward women.
Women are called foxes, bitches, birds, lambs — domestic and game animals. If men are compared to animals at all they are wolves, bears, stallions — symbols of strength and power.

Quote from lens culture.

An article from oneequalworld.com reports:

Graves’ “Menagerie” takes the language of street harassment one harrowing step further, by visually recreating the words that women are so often called in the street. Bitch, bird, fox – these words dehumanize women when they are directed at them in public spaces; Graves’ stunning, raw self-portrait series illustrates this horrible occurrence.

Read more of this story here!

 

 

Fighting street harassment worldwide

The New York Times
October 21, 2013

A Worldwide Fight Against Street Harassment

By 

THE reality of street harassment against women who are traveling dawned on me some years ago in Rabat, Morocco, when my wife rushed back into our hotel room looking uncharacteristically shaken. She had ventured out alone on an errand, and had been accosted on a street near the Kasbah by a group of men, several of whom barked and made lewd comments, one of whom exposed himself. In broad daylight.

Actually, you may already know this story, if you’re a woman who travels by herself. Mostly, around the world, even in exotic locales, street life is serene and manageable. Sometimes, though, women see a very different street than men see.

There have been horrific stories in recent years of violent sexual assaults on women who are traveling, and there is no need to reprise them here. Physical assaults are at one extreme on the scale of street harassment, but the scale also encompasses grades of sexually oriented assault, including groping and verbal abuse. Increasingly, social networks, often organized by young women, are working together around the world to share stories and encourage organized action against street harassment of all sorts.

To one degree or another, it occurs just about everywhere. “I moved to New York City when I was 18, and being harassed on the street was a part of daily life for a young woman,” said Emily May, the co-founder and executive director of one of the most wide-ranging of the international groups addressing street harassment, Hollaback (ihollaback.org).

“I knew it was not O.K., but I really just thought that this is what women have to deal with if they want to live in the city, that there is nothing you can do to change it. But female friends and I began having conversations with male friends who were shocked to hear our stories. One guy looked at me and said, ‘You live in a different New York City than I do.’ And I was like, ‘What’s up with that? Why do I live in a different New York City?’ ”

In 2005, when she was 24, Ms. May and six friends, three of them male, started Hollaback, which has since ridden an international wave of digitally organized reaction against street harassment around the world. From its modest beginnings in New York, Hollaback says it now has affiliates in 62 cities in 25 countries, working in 12 languages.

It is managed by a staff of three full-time employees, including Ms. May, operating on a shoestring budget out of an office at the Y.W.C.A. in Downtown Brooklyn. Around the world, there are now 300 organizers who have all been trained by the group, mostly through extensive webinars. Ms. May said Hollaback trained them “to pair storytelling with on-the-ground action” to expand public awareness of street harassment.

Right now, Ms. May said, two of the major hubs for organized action against street harassment are Egypt and India, countries where some of the most notorious street sexual assaults against women have occurred in recent years. In Egypt, a separate group called HarassMap tracks in real time reports of street harassment that women can make anonymously using mobile technology. HarassMap, in Arabic and English, also provides links for assistance and education. In 2012, Egypt toughened laws against sexual street harassment, including groping and catcalls, but in general “they are not enforced,” HarassMap says, while often, the victim who reports harassment is blamed.

In India, “street harassment is an everyday reality for women,” said Rubina Singh, the director of the Hollaback chapter in Chandigarh. “Comments, staring, stalking, groping and much more are pretty much expected to be experienced by a woman traveling here.” Partly because of online story-sharing and networking that bring sharper narrative focus to the issues, however, police have become more cognizant of street harassment against women, she said.

“There is also a change in the general attitude of the public,” she added. “It’s easier to talk about street harassment now than it was last year.” Like others in the organized initiatives against street harassment, Ms. Singh noted that it occurred everywhere, even in places where street life was not especially bustling. While visiting Los Angeles, she said, “I’ve had my share of comments and catcalls.”

In coordinating with international organizers and training new ones, Ms. May added, “we’re always on Skype and Google hangouts to meet regularly with everyone. It’s a robust online community — they all talk amongst each other to try to facilitate a cross-cultural collaboration.

“Just yesterday I was on the phone with our team in Croatia, and they had noticed that our team in Baltimore was doing this really great ‘take back the bar’ campaign, for training people who worked in bars to be able to respond when they saw harassment happening. And Croatia was like: ‘Yeah, we see the same issues. We want to bring that here.’ ”

E-mail: jsharkey@nytimes.com

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/22/business/fighting-harassment-of-women-on-streets-worldwide.html