Less than a year ago, Alexa Dredge helped create a website to share stories of sexual harassment from public transit riders across Metro Vancouver.
Now, the recent Simon Fraser University graduate is joining an international movement that’s fighting back against street harassment targeting women and LGBTQ folks.
Dredge told the Georgia Straight that she’s volunteering with Hollaback, a New York-based organization that is launching its Vancouver chapter this Saturday (July 12).
“Much the same way that we did with our Harassment on TransLink blog, Hollaback is trying to collect stories and submissions from people who have experienced street harassment, trying to foster a sense of empowerment and ownership of public space,” Dredge said by phone from her home in North Vancouver. “So they’re trying to collect more stories and trying to provide resources as well, so that people know how to react and how to feel more comfortable and safe in their environment.”
According to its website, Hollaback is active in 79 cities and 26 countries, including Toronto and Victoria in Canada. The organization’s vision is a “world where street harassment is not tolerated and where we all enjoy equal access to public spaces”.
Locals can use the Hollaback Vancouver site to submit their own stories of assault, groping, stalking, verbal abuse, and other forms of harassment, including racist, homophobic, and transphobic incidents. Hollaback also has iPhone and Android apps.
“They encourage you to take a photo of the harasser if you feel comfortable, but not if you feel that it would escalate any sort of violence or intimidation,” Dredge said.
One story posted on May 28 to Hollaback Vancouver recounts one woman’s experience on the Georgia Viaduct.
“A car drove by full of guys who were hanging out the window of the car holding a Canucks’ flag,” the post reads. “One of them yelled at me ‘show us your p***y.’When I flashed the middle finger, they called me a f**cking bitch and slammed on their brakes. They yelled out that they were going to kill me then drove off the of Viaduct and pulled a u-turn on Main in order to circle back up. I could see from the bridge that they got stuck and then headed back to towards town to try to come back. I ran the whole way home with my hoodie covering my head.”
Dredge said Hollaback Vancouver is aiming to “decrease the sense of entitlement to other people’s spaces”.
“Most women have experienced some form of street harassment, and it jeopardizes their sense of safety and security in public spaces and can even change how they navigate their cities and limit what they do in their cities, because of their discomfort,” Dredge said. “So we’re trying to mitigate that and empower people to feel like they can stand up to that kind of harassment, especially in summer too, because there is often a bit of victim blaming with the way that people dress with having hotter weather.”
When talking to harassers, the site says, people should “always use strong body language”, “not apologize, make an excuse, or ask a question”, and “not get into a dialogue with the harasser, try to reason with them, or answer their questions”. Bystanders can intervene by telling harassers to “knock it off”, standing next to the harassed person, or taking a photo of the incident with their phone.
On Saturday, the Hollaback Vancouver launch party will take place at Heartwood Community Café (317 East Broadway) from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Admission is a suggested donation of $10.