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The Guardian

 in New York theguardian.com

New York victim of street harassment? There’s an app for that

Hollaback, an organization working to end street harassment, launches an improved app with boost from Christine Quinn

Hollaback! app

Christine Quinn took a stand against street harassment Monday as aNew York-based advocacy organization launched a tool to digitally report offenses to the city council.

The Democratic mayoral candidate and current city council speaker held a press conference in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood to help launch an improved app by Hollaback, which will allow victims of street harassment to report incidents via smartphone. The city, which helped fund the app, hopes to work with Hollaback to create a database of incidents and identify problematic areas.

“We’re here today to let New Yorkers – and particularly women and girls – know that people who violate women either by their actions or words won’t be able to hide anymore,” Quinn said. “We will know who they are, what they do, where they do it, and we will put it to an end.”

The Hollaback smartphone app, available for iPhone and Android devices, can allow a victim to anonymously report an incident with just a few clicks. Though reporting an incident to Hollaback does not constitute a police report – that will have to be made separately – the app does record details about incidents, including where they took place and what was said by the harasser. But information from the app can be sent to the New York City council, and specifically to the council member from the district where the harassment took place. New York’s city council allocated $20,000 last year towards creating an expanded version of the app.

Hollaback aims to change how women, girls and members of the LGBTQ community report street harassment, a problem that, for some, has become endemic to living in New York City as well as other major citiesacross the globe such as London, Beijing and Chicago. Amy, a 23-year-old accountant who asked to be identified only by her first name, went so far as to relocate from Harlem to Flushing, Queens, in order to avoid street harassment.

Amy encountered consistent harassment from a group of men, who over the course of several months progressed from asking for her name and phone number to asking her back to their apartments. “I wouldn’t want to go home because I didn’t want to run into anyone who would bother me,” she said. “And when I was home I didn’t want to leave, because I didn’t want to encounter people who would bother me.”

Hollaback seeks to empower women like Amy and members of the LGBTQ community against their harassers and attackers by giving them the chance to document each incident. Smartphone users can use the app (see below), while those without iPhones or Android devices can report incidents online.

hollaback-pair2

Hollaback and New York City officials hope that the data gleaned from reports made via the app will help the city to identify problematic areas and lead to improvements specific to each neighborhood.

“We don’t know exactly what’s going in the neighborhoods because we don’t have enough of a data set. The goal of the app is to improve the data set,” Hollaback executive director Emily May told the Guardian on Monday.

Edward Wardrip, 23, a film editor based in Manhattan, said the app was a good idea for preventing street harassment, but that he wouldn’t immediately think to reach for it in the middle of an incident. Wardrip, who is gay, has on occasion been followed and had slurs like “faggot” shouted at him on the streets.

“Having an app that calls attention to the fact that there’s a lot of progress that still needs to be made, and having that on my phone, feels like a constant reminder of that and that you’re still not safe,” Wardrip told the Guardian. “Overall, the city feels safe to me, but there are certain places you don’t go at certain times. People know that.”

For Quinn, the issue of LGBTQ safety is important both personally and politically. If elected, she would be the first female and first openly gay mayor of New York City; that would make Kim Catullo the first gay first lady. Quinn has made strong pushes both for the city’s female vote and LGBTQ vote, though recent polling data from Marist and Quinnipiac show no real gender gap between men and women who support her. Some members of the LGBTQ community, like Queers against Quinnhave gone so far as to say Quinn is exploiting the community to win votes.

And for voters like Wardrip, Quinn’s support for LGBT causes might not be a deciding factor in casting his ballot. He isn’t alone.

“Having an out mayor representing our our city would be a great message that we are moving forward. But it also doesn’t feel like that much of a deciding factor because I don’t think it’s possible to elect an official here that doesn’t support LGBT rights.”

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