Kenya: Preparing for a Campaign on the Ferry

public harassment, SSH programs, street harassment | on October, 21, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Our six Safe Public Spaces Mentees are half-way through their projects. This week we are featuring their blog posts about how the projects are going so far. This second post is from our team in Kenya. Their projects are supported by SSH donors. If you would like to donate to support the 2015 mentees, we would greatly appreciate it!

Planning about the ferry “Stop Gender Harassment” with our team at the Teens Watch Centre

We plan to hold a campaign about harassment on the ferry. Our pre-planning meeting in the community started with a word of prayer. Then Cosmos, the project manager, informed the participants that the purpose of the meeting was to learn more about street harassment, especially as we plan the five day exhibition at the stand on the ferry ramp dubbed “Stop gender based harassment on the ferry.”

Cosmos informed the participants that madam Holly at Stop Street Harassment had already raised and sent kshs. 22,000 which was for the support of the five day event. Cosmos expressed the situation on the ground that currently about eighteen women and two males had openly expressed their sadness on being badly touched or harassed on the ferry. Cosmos said that all was not in vain that fortunately one sex pest has been sentenced to two years prison term after a confident non fearing lady caught him and led him to the police post where he was immediately booked and taken to court the next morning.

Cosmos expressed that the reason for this campaigns is to have victims of this kind of harassment open up so that we can let people know that our Likoni ferry will not tolerate such kind of pests. He urged the participants to attend the exhibition in large numbers and support the campaign without fear.

Talking to the Community about”stop gender harassment in our ferry” at the Kwale community hall

The pre-planning meetings have gone on well so far we have been able to reach out to three hundred and fifty participants from our community. This has included 112 males and 188 females. The most successful meeting was at the Kwale Community Social Hall where over 200 participants came to deliberate on the “Stop gender harassment on our ferry” campaign.  The participants arrived early and we discussed the topic in a participatory manner. One lady shared her story about how when she was carrying a baby in her back a man kept stroking her buttocks pretending he was playing with the kid. She expressed her sadness that no male who was around her on the ferry did anything but just stared at her and some laughed. She expressed her last sentiments with pain, “We are not toys to play with, respect our bodies” she pointed at the men.

A school girl also took the mike and expressed how a man old enough to be her dad kept rubbing his erect penis on her back in the crowded ferry. It felt so shocking and depressing she says. She ended with this message “Please, our fathers respect yourselves and we shall respect you. Zip-it-up”.

An elderly mother that we had invited to share her experience started by congratulating Teens Watch and the Stop Street Harassment campaign saying this campaign should not be a onetime event and we need to plan for it every year. She said she was one of the main victims of the sexual harassment on the ferry she said that it was around six o’clock when she boarded the ferry and as usual the ferry was packed with people, about two thousand to be exact. As a lady, she said, I tried my best to go towards where most women were packed. Of course the ferry as it is now it’s not a female friendly vessel. Soon the pushing and jostling started and I sensed a man patting my buttocks as if it was romance. I pushed further on and he kept following me pretending he was being pushed.

Suddenly I felt hard warmth pressing on me. By then the ferry was midway and everyone was concentrated on the ferry reaching the off ramp. The hardness was so uncomfortable I looked him straight in the eye harshly and he backed off. It was not until I reached the other side to get off that a lady screamed, “What’s on your back?” and as I turned and strained my neck behold a big lump of sperm was smeared on my back.

I was furious! Ladies came to my rescue wiped the sperm out. I tried to look for the man who had a yellow t-shirt on, but I couldn’t find him, there were so many people in yellow. In short, I am so annoyed with this pests, as you know I am not the only one. Many women are suffering quietly, but from now on, women I want to tell you to stand up for your rights. When a man dares to press on you, raise the red card, scream, and let his acts be known. And for the men and our brothers who are here, support us against this sex beasts that pretend to be men. She ended by saying, “a man does not count as a man because of pressing his penis on a helpless woman but by protecting women against harassment. Thank you.”

Resolutions passed in this pre-planning meeting

* That the Kenya ferry services should think about separating women from the men to avoid harassment.
* That the Kenya ferry should have CCTV cameras that work on the ferry and be operated at all times.
* That the Kenya ferry should allow the Teens Watch Centre to have posters displayed to Stop Street Harassment to create awareness and warnings to those intending to violate the rules.
* That the county senate should debate on a policy towards making street harassment or sex pest an act punishable by jail in Kenya.
* That women should speak up when assaulted or harassed and that men should support them when need arises.
* That we should identify a local women leader to push this campaign.
* That the five day exhibition and campaign should be held in December when schools are closed and more people are free so that they can participate.

Mr. Cosmus W. Maina is the Project Co-ordinator for the Teen Watch Centre in Diani Beach, Kenay, and the lead for the Safe Public Spaces team in Kenya.

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Serbia: Surveying Youth about Street Harassment

LGBTQ, SSH programs, street harassment | on October, 20, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Our six Safe Public Spaces Mentees are half-way through their projects. This week we are featuring their blog posts about how the projects are going so far. This first post is from our team in Serbia. Their projects are supported by SSH donors. If you would like to donate to support the 2015 mentees, we would greatly appreciate it!

After the political change fourteen years ago, the civil sector in Serbia has been dealing with the transformation of extremely violent society. There are high rates of domestic violence, juvenile delinquency, slow judiciary, inadequate laws and even less adequate penalties, and a society that was not ready to change. These are just some of the problems that demanded immediate reaction. Thanks to consistent efforts of feminist groups and NGOs, we have a new set of laws and certainly more awareness about gender-based violence.

However, these circumstances led to the minimizing the issue of street harassment. Since there was no published survey, members of our group, Equity Youth Association, believed that the right way to start dealing with this issue is to collect the data, first. In Niš, Serbia, there is a University and over 19 secondary schools, so we decided to focus our survey on youth between 18 and 30 years old.

So far, we have conducted a survey in three secondary schools and at two Faculties. We weren’t very optimistic about how open schools and Facilities would be for collaboration since the education system had various difficulties at the beginning of the school year. We have been pleasantly surprised that we haven’t been rejected, yet.

Students taking their surveys!

What has encouraged us the most is the reaction of the psychologist of the school that has mostly female students: “I’m so glad you have brought up this subject. Our girls are completely unaware of what harassment is. And how couldn’t they be? We live in society where it is normal to stare and comment on everybody and everything. They are expecting to be looked at. They are taught that looking good is the only thing that matters. They validate themselves through how many offensive, primitive comments they receive daily. It’s disturbing.”

It was upsetting to hear that most of the described behaviors from our survey are seen as “normal” and an “every-day thing”. But, the fact that majority of girls aren’t feeling pleasant when they experienced these things was an indicator that this is something that can be changed.

Boys were quite honest, as well: “Of course I have done this. What is the other way to approach a girl, anyway? I have to draw her attention somehow. Once she meets me, she will know that I’m better than that.” So, they are aware that is wrong, they just don’t know what the alternative is.

One of the teachers shared her story with us: “During my class, in the classroom on ground floor, a man approached the window and started masturbating. Kids started to scream and he luckily ran away. But, I was so shocked that I was unable to move. When I come to think of it, I didn’t tell anybody about this, until now.”

We have also noticed that there are city parks where usually young people are gathered that are recognized as places where harassment occurs. Strangely enough, even though they are always full with young people, especially during the summer, street lighting in these places is not very good.

There are, as well, a few questions in our survey about the LGBT population, or people who are perceived as LGBT because of the stereotypes. These questions, as we have expected, were the one that have received the most reactions. One of the principals said that kids in his school are “normal” and have no idea what those words like gay and lesbian mean.

One of the girls got very angry when she read these questions. She had marched to her teacher and screamed: “Look what they are asking us. They are probably thinking that it’s ok to be a faggot or a dyke, but I would kill them all.”

The teacher was visibly uncomfortable because of the girl’s reaction and this is how she tried to make things right: “But, it’s not “their” fault that “they” are like “that”. I read about this. Something happens in mother’s body during third month of pregnancy that causes them to be like “that”.”

Living in homophobic society, we were expecting to get all kinds of reactions, but we weren’t prepared for this amount of ignorance. It is more than obvious that we need education among all structures of society.

The last set of questions in our survey is about legislation and the lack of the definition of sexual harassment in public places in our legal system. The students’ answers were rather discouraging. One law student wrote, “Making a legal frame won’t change a thing. Prosecutors are not able to prove there was a murder, let along street harassment. Rule of law is unattainable for us.”

However we are grateful for each and every reaction we get and every question answered. Hopefully, the results will indicate what should be our next step and what could really make a change.

Marija Stanković, Equity Youth Association and the lead SSH Safe Public Spaces Mentee in Serbia. 

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“Do not ever make a woman feel unsafe.”

Stories, street harassment | on October, 20, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

I have never been grabbed by a stranger in my life.

I was walking around in the West Village after work today; talking with my mom on the phone about visiting Georgia at the end of the month. I had my headphones on, but I always keep one ear off, just to stay alert/aware of my surroundings. Even though the West Village is a family friendly, brownstone neighborhood, you honestly never know. Which brings me to this:

As I was talking with my mom, a man, obviously a bus boy of some kind because of his apron, walking in front of me. Did the usual up-and-down as I walked towards him. I kept my head down and continued walking, as I normally do. Because I was talking to my mom and not listening to music, I heard him call me “Sweet Baby.” Nothing out of the norm, usual annoyance.

Then, he grabbed my arm. He physically put his hand on me, this stranger. Immediately I figured out in a fight-or-flight situation, I’m fight.

I snapped around, with my headphones still on, practically yelling, pointed my finger in his face and said,

“Don’t you dare ever f**king touch a woman without her permission. Do you understand me?”

He froze. And said sorry with his hands up, and slowly backed away. I continued,

“Take this as a f**king lesson. Do not ever make a woman feel unsafe. Do not ever make anyone feel unsafe. Be fucking ashamed of yourself. Learn from this. Remember this.”

And as I was telling this to my brother, he made a really great point. Thank God I had that reaction. Because you never know what people are capable of, and if he had really intended to harm me, there’s only so far you can run. There’s only so much you can do if you freeze up, which is a lot of women’s natural reaction to a physical threat.

I got mad, I defended myself. And I felt really f**king good about it. And I never usually call people like that out, ever.

But the minute you put your hands on a stranger, male to female, male to male, female to male, you’ve got to fight. Because you never know what someone’s intentions are the minute they put their hands on you.

- Rebecca Florence

Location: West Village, NYC

Share your street harassment story for the blog.
See the book 50 Stories about Stopping Street Harassers for more idea

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USA: Our Oppressions are Intertwined

correspondents, public harassment | on October, 20, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Sarah Colomé , IL, USA, SSH Blog Correspondent

Via Gradient Liar

Throughout the past several years of working to combat rape culture, I have noticed a disturbing trend. I often find that in our work, we make strong calls for solidarity that may not be equally, if at all, reciprocated.  We often forget that violence against our children is a reproductive justice issue. We forget that our oppressions are intertwined. Sometimes we don’t show up as often as we should.

The wake of the tragic death of Michael Brown, fueled by the recent finding that every 28 hours a black person is killed by a security officer, highlights the lived reality of fear and dehumanization experienced by many people of color. Have we, as a community, engaged with this historic issue of police misconduct and brutality? Are we examining our own prejudices and acknowledging when we ourselves, racially profile others? Are we collaborating with other community organizations focused on racial justice and police violence to transform our society into a safer place for all to exist? Have we actively framed this as a reproductive justice issue?

Dani McClain outlines this disconnect between movements in The Nation explaining, “the killing of Michael Brown, like the killing of many young black people before him, is rarely framed as a feminist issue or as an issue of pressing importance to those who advocate for choice, self-determination and dignity as they relate to family life.”

To create change in the manner in which female identified persons can walk through the world with more ease and less threat of violence, we must recognize that others face similar fears about violence because of their identity. After all, the same structures and systems that functionally condone, and perpetuate the degradation of female identified and queer presenting or identified persons, also actively propagate the dehumanization of people of color, and yes, all oppressed people.

Doing “the work” can manifest itself in a multitude of ways:

* Explore with your staff why some individuals feel they should not, or could not, go to police officers to safely report street harassment.Consider screening a film like this one from Found Voices, and asking a partner organization to come debrief and collaborate.

* Offer community-wide trainings on how to report abusing policing in your area. For example, report here for New York, here for Chicago, or here for Los Angeles.

* Organize a staff outing where you attend a local rally or teach-in, or write letters to legislators, in support of racial justice.Support movements for Marissa Alexander, university teach-ins on Ferguson, or local measures for police accountability.

* Consider offering your employees and volunteers “cop watch” trainings. Organizations including Cop Watch NYC, CAAAW,Berkeley Copwatch,We Cop Watch, and We Charge Genocide all offer these trainings.

Challenge your organization, and the community as a whole, to refrain from segregating ourselves and our work, claiming “that’s not what we do.”

* Continually doing our work, without recognizing how oppression interacts among us both uniquely and interconnectedly, destabilizes the very foundation that is essential to create tangible, sustainable change. Addressing gender-based harassment and violence without acknowledging that others are equally harassed and violated based on their visible identities, whether actual or assumed, does nothing to create relationships for future bystander interventions.

This is not to suggest that there are not phenomenal groups doing intersectional work and capacity building across movements. This does not negate that there are a multitude of struggles and experiences of oppression that are lived out daily, needing our support, intervention, and attention. Nor does my assertion forgo the difficult realities of the nonprofit industrial complex, and the structures that often make our desire to collaborate difficult.

But I ask you all this: Are we showing up for those who are targeted for harassment based upon their perceived race? If not, we must ask ourselves why and how we may in some instances, be perpetuating the very experiences of violation that we are aiming to prevent.

It should never be acceptable to ask for support from our community when we do not show up for those same people as they engage with their own struggle. Recognize the privileges we hold in various spaces.  We know that male presenting individuals hold privilege in this world that female presenting people do not. This status as a target group however, does not negate other instance of privilege that we may hold. We must hold ourselves accountable to recognize our complicated, multifaceted identities, and how in some situations, the power of our privilege may outweigh the disadvantages of our target group status.

Ask yourself:

* Are we showing up at rallies, marches, or protests addressing police brutality, misconduct, or profiling?

* If not physically, or otherwise able to attend, are we engaging these topics on social media, or relating them intersectionally in our own work?

* Are we incorporating the voices of other marginalized groups in our work against rape culture and street harassment?

* Do we make sure to recognize that for many, police are not a safe option for reporting or “protection?”

* Are we engaging in self-assessment and reflection on how our own actions may perpetuate, or result in, others’ experiences of street harassment?

Bystander intervention does not exist solely in acting when someone is being cat called, followed or bombarded with sexualized comments. Bystander intervention exists in acknowledging and challenging ANY instance of oppression, no matter the movement that the target group may align with.

This note is a call to action, out of love, to the community I fight alongside with passion and commitment. We are at a crucial time for a multitude of resilient movements, both nationally and internationally. We must stand alongside one another.  I challenge us all to interrogate our own perceptions of others, as we call one another to accountability for our actions.

Sarah is a progress-focused educator and advocate dedicated to building strategic coalitions centered on creating social change who serves as an adjunct professor in DePaul University’s Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies department. You can follow her updates on Linkedin or hear her perspectives on Twitter.

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“I have been followed with a video camera pointed at my butt”

Stories, street harassment | on October, 19, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

I used to live in DC and the harassment is obnoxious. I have been followed with a video camera pointed at my butt while leaving a grocery store. I have had guys park their car and sit at the bus stop and harass me to get my number. One time when I was only 16, a metro bus driver in Northeast D.C flicked his tongue at me in a sexual way when I boarded the bus and when I got off of the bus. It made me feel so uncomfortable. I couldn’t believe that a grown man could behave like that even in a professional setting.

- RJ

Location: Washington, DC

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See the book 50 Stories about Stopping Street Harassers for more idea

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USA: Building a New Culture of Consent at NYCC

correspondents, public harassment | on October, 17, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Katie Bowers, NY, USA, SSH Blog Correspondent

Last week we discussed New York Comic Con’s shiny, new anti-harassment policy.  Over Saturday and Sunday at the convention, I got to see the policy in action.

Thanks to the efforts of Geeks for CONsent, The Mary Sue, and others, New York Comic Con 2014 featured a plethora of reminders that “Cosplay is not Consent”.  Prominent black and red standees stood throughout the Javits Center’s main lobby – a major site for amateur and professional photographers looking to grab a shot of attendee’s incredible costumes.  The policy, which also covered a full page of the program booklet, forbids a wide range of harassment including unwanted physical touching and gestures, verbal comments, stalking and intimidation, and photos taken without consent.  Offenders, the standees and program booklets proclaimed, run the risk of being kicked out of the convention.

I spent the weekend dressed up as one of sci fi’s favorite red heads: Special Agent Dana Scully.  To my knowledge, everyone who took my picture asked for my permission – and everyone asked with enthusiasm.  This isn’t a new phenomenon.  In general, anyone excited enough about your costume to want a picture also wants to share their excitement – but one interaction in particular stuck out to me.

A man approached me on the show floor and asked to take my photo.  “Sure,” I said and went to set down my stuff.  My badge and bag got tangled and it took a minute to unhook the two.  “Sorry, hold on,” I told him.

“No, no, I’m sorry,” he said quickly.  “I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.  You don’t need to be sorry.”

In a place where people walk around on stilts and stilettos, strap proton packs to their back, and squeeze through overcrowded aisle ways, comfort is generally not the first thing on anyone’s mind.  His response was totally surprising and wonderfully welcome.

In addition to visual reminders, NYCC also hosted “#YesAllGeeks”, a panel about harassment in convention spaces with Diana Pho of Beyond Victoriana, , Marlene Bonnelly of, writer and prolific tweeter Mikki Kendall; Emily Asher Perrin of Tor, writer and #YesAllWomen creator Kaye M, and Robert Anders, a nurse practioner speaking about the psychological effects of harassment. The panelists did a great job of breaking down why having anti-harassment policies are so important:

* Obviously, a strong policy helps victims to recognize harassment when it happens to them and provides them with an immediate course of action.  It can also help women, people of color and members of other frequently harassed groups feel more welcome – an important consideration as conventions grow larger and more diverse.

* With a well-publicized policy, harassers can be held accountable.  It’s hard to convincingly claim ignorance when standing next to an 8-foot tall standee and holding the full text of the anti-harassment policy in your swag bag.

* Policies can also open up opportunities for bystanders.  Often, bystanders witness harassing behavior but don’t step in.  They’re not sure what to do, and they don’t want to be harassed themselves.  With a policy in place, bystanders have more options.  They can ask the victim if they are okay, if they’d like help, if they’d like to report, and even if they have heard about the “Report Harassment” feature of the NYCC app.  Or, if it feels safe, they can remind the harasser about the “Cosplay is not consent” policy.

So there are lots of good reasons to create and publicize strong anti-harassment policies – but Mikki Kendall pointed out that the most important reason of all isn’t action and reaction.  It’s prevention.  When asked how we can make fan communities safe spaces, Kendall advised that we need to be communities that respond appropriately and immediately to unacceptable behavior. When we speak out against harassment and oppression – at conventions, online, or even in the media that we geek out about – we make our communities better and safer.  We hold ourselves and other members of the community to a higher level.  Or, since we’re at Comic Con, you could say we “level up”.

This weekend, NYCC became the most highly attended convention of the year with 150,000 fans walking through the front door.  Those 150,000 fans saw costumes, sneak previews, art, comics, panels – and a new message: it’s time to level up.

Want to see the panel in its entirety?  Visit Beyond Victoriana!  Or read more at The Mary Sue.

Katie is a social worker and community educator interested in ending gender-based violence, working with youth to make the world a better place, and using pop culture as a tool for social change. Check out her writing at the Imagine Better Blog and geek out with her on Twitter, @CornishPixie9.

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Bulgaria: Harassment-free schools: Whose responsibility is it anyway?

correspondents, public harassment, street harassment | on October, 16, 2014 | by | 0 Comments

Diana Hinova, Sofia, Bulgaria, SSH Blog Correspondent

Public schools are public spaces. Schools are also one of the places where we learn, ‘by doing’, about what public space is and what behaviors are acceptable in it. It is no secret that there can be serious problems with bullying and harassment in schools. In Bulgaria, though, teachers and school officials –underpaid and often burned out – tend to ignore anything that is happening between students and does not lead to serious bodily injury. They try to just focus on their job, insisting that they are responsible for educating, not protecting or disciplining the students.

So, a lot goes on in Bulgarian schools to ‘teach’ girls that they cannot count on their bodies being respected or their rights protected. Being groped and verbally harassed by classmates on a regular basis just seems to be part of the public school experience. When Bulgarian women who had experienced physical or sexual violence since age 15 by someone other than their partner were asked details about the most serious such incident, 22% cited someone from a school context as the perpetrator (European Study on Violence Against Women, 2012).

The message that girls cannot count on their bodies being respected or their rights protected is reinforced by street harassment. Bystander passivity compounds it. When they experience and witness street harassment, in their daily commutes to school and other activities, girls come to understand that this behaviour is seens as tolerable not only for their rowdy peers, but for any man. Boys similarly see that there is no incentive to stop harassing women.

As long as sexual harassment goes on between classmates, school officials will turn the other way and focus on their ‘educating’ work. This realization was certainly part of my stints in Bulgarian public school, and one of the most memorable at that. Is it any wonder then that some of these boys carry the same attitudes and behaviors out into the street? Or that we continue not to talk about gender-based violence as adults? A huge opportunity to break the cycle of tolerated harassment is missed.

A small proportion of cases though, in public school settings, are such where the perpetrator is not another student. An alleged case of this variety captured Bulgaria’s attention this week: the parents of a 13-year-old girl became aware that there was misconduct by staff against their daughter, probably of a sexual nature, at a special-needs school in Sofia. The immediate response by school officials was, in essence, ‘[shrug], I don’t know, I wasn’t there, and, nobody would believe an autistic kid, anyway’. The parents filed complaints with the relevant child rights agencies and the Ministry of Education, public protests and press statements ensued.

What bitter irony that this year the State Agency for Child Protection, along with similar national authorities elsewhere, marks “2014: Year of Child Rights”! It is on the occasion of the 25-year anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, ratified by Bulgaria in 1991. The Convention guarantees children, among other things, protection from physical and sexual violence and exploitation. In addition, while many school officials may not be aware of this fact, a coordination mechanism between the SACP, Ministry of Education, and law enforcement institutions, stipulates that anyone aware of potential violations of these rights bears responsibility for reporting these concerns to the relevant authorities.

As it turns out, there are (on paper) fairly adequate systems for dealing with sexual harassment and more serious offenses in Bulgarian public schools. It’s just that no one wants to take on the added responsibility for using these means.

There is a movement among young parents in Sofia to consider various forms of alternative education. How to educate your children is a huge decision – these people take it quite seriously. And they find themselves pushed away from the public school system not only because of what they perceive as poor quality education, but to a large extent also because it does not provide a safe environment.

They do not want their children to become either victims or aggressors by default, or to internalize the norms tolerant to violence. But Bulgarian public schools at present pretty much guarantee that they would.

Diana has a Master’s in Public Policy from Georgetown University and works as a consultant to INGOs. Follow her on Twitter @dialeidoscope or

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SSH will not publish any comment that is offensive or hateful and does not add to a thoughtful discussion of street harassment. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, disabalism, classism, and sexism will not be tolerated. Disclaimer: SSH may use any stories submitted to the blog in future scholarly publications on street harassment.