The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Sep 09, 2013

Hollaback! brings big data tools to street harassment storytelling

Posted by Emily May

Above: Emily May, co-founder and executive director of Hollaback!

Knight Foundation supports Hollaback! through its Prototype Fund, which accepts applications on a rolling basis. Emily May is co-founder and executive director of Hollaback!

We recently relaunched our Hollaback! app in New York, making the New York City Council the first local government in the world to accept real-time reports of street harassment.  Based on the reception in the Big Apple, we hope to scale the additional features to other cities in our global network, which is thriving in 65 cities and 22 countries.

Here’s how the new features work in New York: If you get groped on Wall Street—or anywhere in the five boroughs—and report the incident through the Hollaback! app, you’ll be given the option to include your demographics, location information and what, if any, formal reporting process you went through. Your report will flow into CouncilStat, the City Council’s citizen reporting system formally reserved for grievances like potholes and noise complaints. From there, it will be sent to your council member and will also be available publicly at The New York app also provides a list of resources for people who experience harassment and a “Know Your Rights” guide.

To ensure that legislators take these reports seriously, Hollaback! plans to issue semi-annual reports that look at issues and trends across New York. Those reports will also help us advocate for harassment education, policy changes and improvements to make the city safer. For example, if we find out this is happening most often to 16-year-olds, we will focus our energy on educational programs in high schools and middle schools. If we find out that most of the harassment is happening in the subways, we will launch a public service campaign. If we see that the majority of this is happening outside Penn Station, we’ll work with community members to do a safety audit of the surrounding area, looking for issues like insufficient street lighting that may be creating an unsafe environment.

With this new tool, New York becomes the first city to undertake an effort to gather the data needed to understand the scope of street harassment and how to reduce those incidents. Preliminary data show that population density is the No. 1 indicator for street harassment—which makes sense. If 1 out of every 50 people walking down the street is going to harass you, it takes a lot longer to pass 50 people on a suburban street than it does in Times Square. 

Outside of New York, Hollaback! works as a crowd-sourced reporting tool, allowing people to share incidents they witnessed or experienced through the app or online through city-specific platforms. The stories are then used by local leaders to advocate for on-the-ground change in those communities. 

We deserve better than street harassment. We deserve to be who we are. Using your story, let’s change the culture by changing the narrative.

You can download Hollaback’s free app via Google Play and iTunes or share your story online. For more information, visit the Hollaback! FAQ.

Back to top