Hollaback Vancouver to explore public safety through art for International Anti–Street Harassment Week

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      Considering the recent string of sexual assaults in the Lower Mainland, allegations of WestJet’s failure to protect its employees from assault and harassment, and former CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi’s controversial acquittal last month, it’s high time we shine a light on the safety and experiences of women in public spaces.

      Stacey Forrester, Vancouver coordinator for international anti–street harassment network Hollaback, hopes that two therapeutic body-mapping workshops, conducted as part of International Anti–Street Harassment Week (April 10 to 16), will help drive this conversation. 

      “A lot of women left the result of the Ghomeshi verdict feeling like, ‘Well, if our stories aren’t enough, what else do we have?’ ” says Forrester during a phone interview with the Straight, “and I really think that this process is a way to illustrate those stories—like, what fear looks like and what safety looks like—very, very viscerally.”

      Employed by people living with HIV, body-mapping is a form of creative therapy that draws links between our experiences, bodies, and surroundings. Forrester has adapted the process to explore public harassment and perceptions of safety, which will be illustrated through life-size, body-shaped maps.

      The workshops take place today (April 10) at 2 p.m. and on Tuesday (April 12) at 6:30 p.m. in Gastown. All genders are welcome and interested participants must RSVP by email to receive the exact address of the workshops’ location.

      CATIE, posted on Hollaback Vancouver's event page.">
      An example of a body-mapping workshop conducted by CATIE, posted on Hollaback Vancouver's event page.

      The completed maps will eventually be shared with the public in an effort to spark dialogue about sexual harassment and gender-based violence on a local level. Once a venue to display the art has been secured, Forrester hopes to connect with the municipality through individuals working in urban living at Vancouver’s City Hall. 

      “We’d love a public place where people can look at them and come and go as they please,” she says. “Ideally, a public city space because that ties in with our theme of our right and access to move about in the city and feel safe in the city.”

      Anyone who may have any leads or a space to offer for the cause can contact the organization by email.

      Hollaback Vancouver’s sister agency, Good Night Out Vancouver, will also be hosting an inclusive, body-positive dance party this Friday (April 15) in celebration of International Anti–Street Harassment Week.

      The event will feature an all-women roster of DJs, producers, and artists and will uphold the two feminist organizations’ zero-tolerance policies that forbid unwanted attention, body-shaming, gender-policing, transphobia, and homophobia. All genders are welcome.

      “We really wanted to throw a party and show people what a dance party can look like when you involve women at every level, instead of just being props for the party,” says Forrester.

      Hollaback Vancouver's sister organization, Good Night Out Vancouver, will wrap up the week with an inclusive, body-positive dance party.

      The celebration takes place at the Red Gate Arts Society (855 East Hastings Street) from 10 p.m. until late. A minimum $10 donation is recommended at the door. More information about the event, including the full DJ lineup, can be found here.

      Last year, Hollaback Vancouver conducted the What’s Your Number? campaign for International Anti–Street Harassment Week, which saw 14 volunteers track their experiences of public harassment in a 24-hour period. The results revealed that, during a 16-hour day, harassment affected their lives an average of once every 42 minutes.

      Though this is indeed a troubling number, Forrester reveals that the stories and art that the participants shared during this period ended up having the most powerful effects. She hopes to replicate this result through this year’s body-mapping workshops.

      “I hope that [the workshops] communicate the message that it may seem like a small thing, like catcalling, but it really does limit how people can access their city or how they feel about their right to the city,” she says. “When they’re worried about their safety after a certain time of day or in a certain neighbourhood, and they can’t move around freely to all areas of the city, then its not a safe city.”