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Anti-street harassment activists rally in NYC

A rally against street harassment at Washington Square Park in Manhattan on Saturday. (WNV/Ashoka Jegroo)

A rally against street harassment at Washington Square Park in Manhattan on Saturday. (WNV/Ashoka Jegroo)

Activists from various anti-street harassment groups held a rally in New York City on Saturday featuring music, spoken word poetry, dance and giant inflatable cats.

The rally was aimed at raising awareness about sexual harassment in public spaces and featured women from various backgrounds sharing their experiences and frustrations with street harassment.

“When we talk about street harassment, we’re talking about things that start with verbal harassment, catcalling,” Debjani Roy, deputy director of Hollaback!, said. “It can also escalate into things like groping, touching, following, but also all the way in the direction of public exposure and sexual assault.”

The event, hosted by Hollaback! and co-sponsored by a number of other groups, took place in Washington Square Park alongside a 12-foot inflatable “cat against catcalling.” After Public Advocate Letitia “Tish” James opened up the event, speakers and artists performed and told their stories of being whistled at, catcalled, and objectified in public.

“We are here today because countless women and men are being victimized and harassed in our streets and our public places and they are not getting justice,” James said. “We are here because strangers think it’s okay to say what they want to whomever they want, but we’re here to fight back.”

In an often-cited study by Stop Street Harassment done in June 2014, 65 percent of women and 25 percent of men report having experienced street harassment. The study also found that “persons of color, lower-income people, and persons who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender were disproportionately affected by street harassment overall.”

Due to this fact, the rally made sure to feature queer, trans and disabled women of color as speakers and performers. LaLa Zannell of the NYC Anti-Violence Project spoke about trans experiences with harassment and violence while Thereasa Macintosh of Voices of Women Organizing Project spoke about the experiences of disabled women. And in between dance routines by the Sydnie L. Mosley Dance Company and anti-street harassment song performances by Sarah Kervin, there were spoken word poems about catcalls, discussions of women in the media, and calls for people to more openly speak out against street harassment. After the speakers and performances, there were several workshops held including a dance workshop and a self-defense workshop.

“These rallies are an opportunity for community members to get together, to share their stories, to hear other people’s stories, to hear the work of other organizations,” Roy said. “It’s an opportunity for us to gather on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and give importance and credence to the issue as a group. And also to chalk-walk and have some fun, post our slogans, and have an empowering experience overall.”