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Identity & Community

New Effort Aims to Stop Street Harassment in Pittsburgh

Heather Dougherty was new to Pittsburgh and without a car, so she’d walk everywhere in and around Lawrenceville.

“And I experienced street harassment almost every time I stepped outside my office,” Dougherty said. “Men would shout at me you know, ‘Hey baby; nice hips,’ stuff like that. They would honk their horn as I crossed the street.”

Dougherty said she did as she’d always been told — ignored it — but it began to happen more frequently.

“I knew I had to take action after a specific experience,” she said. “Two men cornered me on Butler Street and started whispering into my ear. They did try and grab me, and at that point I knew something had to stop.”

After some research Dougherty discovered Hollaback, an international movement to end street harassment. She is now one of four people launching a Pittsburgh chapter of the movement.

“Millions of women and LGBTQ folks worldwide experience harassment, many of us on a daily basis,” said Dougherty. “Together with Hollaback we have the power to end it by speaking, sharing our story and hollaback.”

Dougherty says street harassment, ranging from catcalls to flashing and groping has become a culturally accepted norm, something that “just happens.” The danger, she said is the toll it takes on targets and what such behavior can lead to, as it’s rarely about complimenting someone, but rather about showing dominance.

“As much as you can brush this off and ignore it, it affects your emotional well-being; it affects your day,” Dougherty said. “And can lead to even more violence like rape and assault and violent crimes like that.”

The Hollaback website states that street harassment is often not reported, and “one of the most pervasive forms of gender-based violence and one of the least legislated against.” Hollaback is creating a crowd-sourced initiative which depends on people to share their stories and upload photos and videos or harassers. A Hollaback app is available for both Android and iPhone.

Hollaback Pittsburgh has collected numerous stories since its soft launch last week, documenting experiences of street harassment on Butler Street, Highland Park, Penn Avenue and several college campuses. An official launch party for the effort will take place Wednesday evening.

Going forward, Dougherty said organizers hope to partner with local nonprofits to continue to raise awareness.

“It’s an increasing problem in Pittsburgh because no one says anything, so you automatically become OK with it,” she said, “and it’s not OK.”

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