Hollaback! to make harassers back off

In recent years, street harassment has been an important issue that has been more publicly discussed than ever before. It is an issue that has been around for years, but those affected by it are taking stands to make a difference in order to create more public spaces that offer equality among gender and identify. It is 2015, and there are apps for everything; social justice issues such as gender equality, feminist, and LGBTQ rights are being highlighted through mobile media to inform and raise awareness in order to make a change within society and its so-called norms. Hollaback! is just one of many prime examples of a mobile app that will help end street harassment. Created in 2012 by a “network of local activists around the world,” Hollaback!’s mission is designed to help people “better understand street harassment” in hopes to spark discussion among its users and to create solutions to have equal access in public areas, such as the street, nightclubs, transportation stops, and much more (Hollaback! n.d.). How can this be a successful application to emphasize such an important social justice issue? Can a difference be made through this and ultimately help plenty of victims of street harassment feel much more comfortable on the streets?

The fact that mobile applications can serve as more than entertainment pieces shows the progress that the technological world has made to reach the masses for real issues like equality and women’s rights. There is no reason why issues like these need to be silenced, as they were prior to the Internet age. Hollaback! allows users to record their experiences of any type of sexual harassment that they have experienced in public spaces. This application pushes women or LGBTQ individuals who have fallen victim to unwarranted comments, groping, assault and more to be vocal about their experiences. One huge characteristic that makes Hollaback! work so well is the fact that it is an application thata focuses on participatory culture – it creates an open space for people within the community of users to map out their harassment experiences while offering their opinions and insight, which is ultimately making a path to create the change that is so necessary for the issue at hand (Light & Luckin 2008). You would never know how the encounter could affect another – staying away from those areas, being aware of what had happened, or even having the strength or confidence to be able to stand up against your aggressor are some examples of what the app wants to do. When more people stand up for these social justice issues and are persistent to create change, this is how laws are formed, current legislature is adjusted and change is generated among society. If the application is looking to extend their mission, it is a possibility to team up with officials to be able to pinpoint these harassers through some type of surveillance technology, “creating databases to process and aggregate information” (Marwick 2012).


Though Hollaback! is something that is prompting social change across the world, there are a few flaws that create concern with its design. There is a basic privacy issue when posting the location of what incidences happen with the users – you can post an accurate location on a map where the event occurred. While it is beneficial for other users to know where to look and what places to watch out for, it is a possible safety threat to the person who posted. Either they or any other user who still goes to the location can fall under scrutiny from their attacker again if the place is still visited, walked upon, etc. Some of their accessibility functions can be detrimental to the application’s success. For example, not all major cities are featured on the app, such as Washington D.C. and even Philadelphia. Users can still drag the map pin over to the area where there are reports in the area. It is much more time-consuming and difficult to get there, while other cities like New York City and Los Angeles have instant access. Also, there are only a small group of languages that are able to translate throughout the app (much are widely-used languages worldwide), which can pose a problem for those who use languages outside of the ones offered on the app itself. These are issues that can be changed to make the user feel more safe and included with the mission, and some design adjustments can make the app thrive even more than it already does. The fact that sexual harassment is being reported by more women and LGBTQ individuals worldwide is a huge step to end an important social justice issue, and Hollaback! is a wonderful space that is accessible to many in order to create more awareness to users and those who are not even the main targets. This application has inspired the creation of other applications, such as Not Your Baby to generate discourse among women and LGBTQ people to feel safer in public places.


Works Cited

Hollaback! (n.d.) About. Hollaback! You have the power to end street harassment. Retrieved from http://www.ihollaback.org/about/

[Hollaback! Map Image] Retrieved March 5, 2015 from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/election/hollaback-sexual-harassment-victims-report-incidents-article-1.1431485

Light, Ann and Rosemary Luckin. (2008). “Designing for Social Justice: People, Technology and Learning.” Report for Futurelab.

Marwick, Alice. (2012). “Public Domain: Surveillance in everyday life.” Surveillance & Society. 9(4): 378-393.

RightRides for Women’s Safety. (2012). Hollaback! (Version 2.4.2) [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from http://itunes.apple.com

Rob Bliss Creative [Street HarassmentVideo]. (2014, October 28). 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1XGPvbWn0A


One thought on “Hollaback! to make harassers back off

  1. I agree that the application’s most powerful aspect is found in its participatory design. This design allows individuals to actively use the app in realtime. Sexual harassment of all kinds to all people is something our society needs to address. Event though I don’t believe Hollaback is the one true answer it shows that people are looking to use technology and the media culture to address this issue. I think is a much needed positive step in the right direction. The app could benefit from a global location system in which all areas are covered, like you said. I do not find the accuracy of the location to be a danger, to me it seems like the application is used to record and inform people of the location in which harassment occurs. The second part, to inform, is for the person to know where the spot is and to stay away from it.

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