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Fighting Harassment by Mapping People Who Help the Harassed

BY Nick Judd | Friday, June 24 2011

Hollaback!'s map of New York City. Each pink dot denotes a spot where someone reported that a woman was harassed in public.

Hollaback!, the web-based organization trying to end catcalling and other street harassment of women, is raising money to change its web and mobile platform.

Hollaback! asks women to use a mobile application to report when they encounter behavior on the street that they find to be unacceptable, from being stared at to groped or intimidated by a group of men. Each story becomes a point on a map, and the map itself has a number of uses: May hopes it will spur more research about harassment, where it happens, and why, but it's also a place to collect stories that are used to make the case to lawmakers that harassment is a real problem.

There's also a media element to it, May says.

"Looking at these stories is almost a form of crowdsourced journalism," she explained.

While the Hollaback! website now features a map of incidents of street harassment reported through Hollaback!'s phone application, founder Emily May told me today, the organization wants to modify the platform to also document incidents where bystanders decided to intervene.

During a conversation with one of her campaign's supporters, May said, she struck on an idea.

"I think it's really great that we're mapping these things," she recalls saying, "But I have to say, I think it's a little depressing. All around the world, this just keeps happening, the map just keeps growing."

The solution Hollaback! is trying is to add stories about intervention into its existing stream of stories about harassment.

"We started talking about what could we map that would be positive, what could we map that's inspiration," May said. "We came upon this idea, why don't we map people who help."

Hollaback! now has blogs in 24 cities where organizers collect and post stories of street harassment, and May says that network will expand to a total of 38 cities in August. The organization's harassment map, if that's a good term for it, documents 4,000 reports of women getting hassled on the street in cities on six continents. To change its software platform, the organization is trying to raise $25,000 online, through the Kickstarter-style platform Indiegogo, on the back of fundraising emails in which a request for a donation is paired with one of the stories from Hollaback!'s website.