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Our City, Our Space, Our Voice.

The State Of Our Streets:
A Report On Street Harassment in Boston

August 2013

This report was researched and compiled by Hollaback! Boston, however it would not have been possible without the voices of the residents of Boston. Thank you to everyone who filled out our survey. Your experiences are important. We thank you for trusting us to tell your story. A huge thank you to our friend and colleague Chelsea Norman for helping us to run some of the more difficult data and doing the time consuming work of sorting through the demographic data. Also thanks to Benjamin de la Cretaz, who so very kindly took the time to format this beast. We would also like to thank Hollaback! Ottawa, who blazed the trail for us with their own report on street harassment in their city and so graciously allowed us to use their report as a template for ours. A big thank you to Hollaback! Headquarters in NYC and their always supportive staff, Emily May, Debjani Roy, & Jae Agustine. And, of course, to all our sister sites all over the world, thank you for the inspiration, the encouragement, and the solidarity. We couldn’t do this without you. Love & revolution,

The Hollaback! Boston Team


What is Hollaback! Boston?
Hollaback! Boston is the local chapter of an international movement dedicated to ending street harassment. Since 2011, we’ve been collecting people’s stories of street harassment through our website, mobile app and via social media. We do public education outreach through workshops, speaking engagements and information fairs. We are a volunteer-run organization.

What is street harassment?
Street harassment is defined as “Unwelcome words and actions by unknown persons in public places which are motivated by gender and invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary, or insulting way.”1

How did we get here?
This report is a first of its kind in Boston and we’ve done a lot of work leading up to the decision to write a report on the state of Boston’s streets. In 2011, we launched Hollaback! Boston. Since that time, we’ve been collecting stories from local residents about incidents of street harassment and educating community members about what street harassment is and how you can respond when it happens through workshops, campaigns, and on-the-ground action. Through doing this work and hearing the stories from countless women and LGBTQ-identified people, our team at Hollaback! Boston knows that street harassment happens all the time and it happens all over our city. We know that because people tell us. They share their experiences with us and we believe them. But we wanted to find a way to communicate this fact to people, especially people that may not think that street harassment is really a problem or people that don’t experience street harassment themselves. We wanted to put the reality of what we face when we walk out the doors and out onto the streets of Boston in black and white. And honestly, we wanted to see how pervasive this problem really was for our fellow Bostonians. And so, here we are. The first ever report on the state of Boston’s streets. We hope that we open some eyes and some doors with the results of our survey. Holla!

1  Stop  Street  Harassment  (website).;initions4


Survey Results
We had 543 respondents to our self-report survey, which ran from August 1-31, 2013 and was hosted online. The survey was open to everyone. This was a non-randomized study.

Who responded to the survey?

• 86% of respondents identified as woman • 31% identified as LGBTQIA* • 12% identified as low income • 13% identified as a person of color • 9% identified as being a person with a disAbility • 2% identified as immigrant/refugee • 1% identified as indigenous

Who responded to the survey?
0% 45% 90% Women LGBTQIA Person of Color Low Income disAbility Immigrant/Refugee Indigenous Students

Of those who responded, who has experienced street harassment?
0% 50% 100% Women LGBTQIA Person of Color Both LGBTQIA & POC disAbility

• 40% said they were students

How are we defining street harassment?

There was very consistent agreement on what constituted street harassment among respondents.

• • • • • • • • • • • • •

78% said leering or staring 83% said honking 95% said being physically touched without permission 95% said catcalls and whistling 97% said degrading comments 96% said verbal attacks 93% said being solicited for sex 92% said public masturbation 92% said flashing 95% said being followed 93% said groping 94% said sexual assault 89% said blocking your path
“I'm sick and tired of being afraid to walk home from the bus. Men honk, whistle, yell. It stops when my boyfriend is with me.” “Harassment happens pretty much every time I'm out in public.” “I'm really tired of being disrespected by strangers. I'm a short, seemingly "vulnerable", person of color, and queer. I can't help the small paranoia being out with my girlfriend or even by myself. It's sad that I can't walk the streets at night. It's sad that you're told you’re stupid [for] going anywhere by yourself because people will target you. What a shame. What about the right to go anywhere or the misfortune of not having anyone to go with you?” –Survey respondents

Only 6 respondents (0%) answered none of the above.

What are we experiencing?
Of the 543 respondents, 476

(or 88%) said they had experienced street harassment.

25 people (or 5%) said they were not sure.

• 87% of female-identified respondents reported experiencing street harassment • 90% of LGBTQIA-identified respondents reported experiencing street harassment • 94% of respondents who identified as a person of color reported experiencing
street harassment

• 96% of respondents who identified as BOTH LGBTQIA & POC reported harassment • 90% of respondents who identified as being a person with a disAbility reported

How often is it happening?


20% of respondents reported experiencing street harassment a few times per month; 19% reported it a few times per week; 11% of respondents said that they experience harassment on a daily basis.

How does it make us feel?
Three of the most common responses were angry (85%), annoyed (78%), and disgusted (72%). Respondents also indicated that the harassment made them feel nervous (80%) and scared (64%). Only 14% respondents indicated that they were ‘flattered’ by experiences of street harassment and only 4% indicated that street harassment ‘didn’t bother’ them.

Where are we being harassed?

• 97% of respondents had experienced harassment on the street in the past year 0% • 63% had experienced harassment on the MBTA • 37% had experienced it in bars or clubs • 14% had experienced it at school
Other locations included gyms (5%) and public parks (32%).

Where are we being Harassed?
50% 100% On the streets MBTA Bars/Clubs School Gyms Public Parks

What are we doing about it?
When asked to define our most common responses to street harassment,

•92% of respondents said they ‘ignored it’. •42% indicated that they yelled something at the harasser, •43% reported telling the person harassing them to leave them

•42% said that they have gone into a business to avoid or get away
from harassment.

When we’re harassed, do we report it?
Sadly, the answer is not very often. Only 21% of respondents indicated that they had reported harassment to the Boston Police or the MBTA Transit Police, security at an establishment, or to the Hollaback! Boston website.


This is in line with what we already know about sexual violence. In the United States, approximately 60% of rape/sexual assault victims did not report their victimization to the police in 2006, according to Nation Crime Victimization Survey data.2

Are people intervening on our behalf?
Bystander intervention has been identified by many in the community as a key element to reducing incidents of street harassment. Unfortunately, the current rates of intervention are staggering low. Hollaback! Boston, through our ‘I’ve got your back!’ campaign 3 advocates for a societal shift where the entire community responds to incidents of violence. We support a bystander intervention model where bystanders are equipped with the tools to intervene directly, to delegate to someone else or to create a distraction. Proper bystander intervention is safe and effective. And we’ve seen it work!

“I was on the Orange Line headed to Forest Hills when a man boarded the train at Roxbury Crossing. He asked me about the weather and I responded that it was nice out, when he asked me if I 'liked beef' as he grabbed at his crotch. I ignored his connotation and told him I was a vegetarian and prepared to exit the train at the next stop. He then shouted at me that I was a "fucking son of a bitch." Another passenger on the train came over and stood by me/between me and the harasser and told me that I was safe. I got off at my stop and another man walked me off the train and down the block towards my office and told me he was sorry that happened and that the harasser had no right to speak to me that way. I am so grateful that people stepped in to make sure that I was okay.”

–Survey respondent

When we asked respondents to share their stories of bystander intervention, only 14% had had someone intervene on their behalf. However, it’s clear that there is a desire for a bystander intervention strategy in Boston.

“One Fourth of July, a man I had never met walked up to me and squeezed one of my breasts without a word. Wearing running clothes and sneakers, he was gone quickly and easily. “He just groped me,” I loudly said to my friend after she stated the same fact. Despite the crowd around us, no one asked me if I was OK or if I needed help. In fact, no one except my friend acknowledged that anything irregular had just happened. While the experience of being groped was awful in itself, the silence of strangers around me was actually worse. I doubt anyone could have prevented this violation, but a stranger acknowledging what had just happened would have meant a lot in an extremely vulnerable moment. Their silence told me that being groped was normal, and their lack of recognition of the situation made me feel like I was overly dramatic for being upset.”

–  “Our  voices  can  counter  the  painful  silence  of  a  crowd.”

What are the impacts?
We can conclude that, based on the high number of people reporting feeling ‘scared’ or ‘nervous,’ when they are harassed (p. 6), that street harassment causes the people experiencing it to feel frightened and/or unsafe on the streets and public transit in Boston.
2  Rand, M. and Catalano, S. (2007). Crime Victimization, 2006. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice

Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice

3  “I’ve  got  your  back!”­‐got-­‐your-­‐back-­‐2/


Several respondents expressed frustration at the pervasiveness of street harassment and the way it impacted their lives. One survey respondent summarized it thusly:

“It's incredibly frustrating to experience that kind of treatment and feel like you can't say anything back for fear that the guy would say or do something worse. Then you're left thinking about it for hours or days and he just moves on with his life. You even have to adjust your life sometimes - not take that way to work or keep an eye out to see if he is there again the next day. It's awful and men just don't get it.”

To address harassment on public transit, we recommend:

• • • •

The MBTA running Hollaback!’s anti-street harassment transit campaign, which was demonstrated to be extremely well-received on SEPTA trains in Philadelphia4 Creation of a public education campaign that focuses on tangible ways that people can safely intervene Creation of a public education campaign that visibly lays out existing services and reporting mechanisms, such as the MBTA Transit Police’s “See Something, Say Something” app and the Hollaback! Boston app Increased training for MBTA Transit Police, drivers, maintenance staff, etc to respond appropriately to incidents of street harassment

To address street harassment in various public spaces across the city, we recommend:

• •

Creation of a safe(r) spaces public education campaign, led by Hollaback! Boston, that raises awareness about all forms of street harassment with a focus on tangible ways that bystanders can safely intervene Holding community safety audits, a United Nations recognized best practice for assessing the level of safety from gender-based violence in a community

4  The campaign received significant press coverage during the first two weeks the ads launched, including pieces

from WHYY,, The Inquirer, Phillesbian, and Women's Media Center. Within days images of the ads being formally announced on April 7, they went "viral" online, with a reach of over 200,000 on Facebook and over 94,000 reblogs on Tumblr, and those views have resulted in an outpouring of support and global calls to bring the ads to their cities. Much of this praise has directly praised SEPTA for such a progressive response to street harassment on public transit. In terms of Facebook data, there were nearly 300,000 impressions of the Facebook album including images of the ads, and based on Facebook insights, tracking shares of just HollabackPHILLY’s posts, the ads have been shared 805 times, generating almost 38,000 likes and 10,422 comments. The images were loaded to many other Facebook albums as well, including those belonging to Upworthy and Miss Representation. As a result of this, Philly’s SEPTA ran the ads for an extra month, free of charge.


Connecting existing reporting mechanisms, such as Hollaback!’s free iPhone & Droid apps, to the city’s information system to allow for increased ease of reporting to local policy makers 5

It is important to remember that Boston is not alone in its issue with street and public transit harassment; in fact, it is an overwhelming problem that plagues both urban and rural areas internationally. There are 65 Hollaback! chapters in 22 countries working to address the issue in their own communities. We believe that with the assistance of public officials and private citizens, it is a problem that can be conquered in our beloved city. We see street harassment as a community problem and believe that we can come together, as a community, to put it to an end. This report is by no means the be all and end all of research on street harassment in Boston. In fact, this is just the starting point. But we believe that the results are compelling enough that they should warrant further, in-depth research on the impact of street harassment on community members’ decisions related to work, housing, and education. Street harassment does not have to be an inevitable part of our society. It is harmful and it is not okay, two facts that are evident by the growing number of residents speaking out against it. We have the power to end street harassment and the time to end it is now.

For more information:
@HollabackBoston Hollaback! Boston

5  “Questions about our NYC app? The FAQ is here.”