Britni, Hollaback! Boston

Tips For Post-Street Harassment Self-Care

Did you know that navigating public space as a sexualized body can cause reactions similar to those experienced by soldiers who have seen combat? Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Maybe you find yourself taking different routes, avoiding certain areas, not wanting to leave the house, or replaying incidents over and over again in your head. This is all normal, but definitely unpleasant and maybe traumatic and upsetting.

So how can you take care of yourself after an incident (or several incidents) of street harassment? Here are some tips:

In the moment:

Try to relax. Work on taking deep breaths with measured, controlled breathing. Try counting to 5 for an inhale and 5 for an exhale. This can be done immediately following an incident, if need be! Or try downloading a guided meditation from YouTube or on your phone and listen to it when you get home, or maybe on your train ride. Drink some water.

Use grounding techniques. If you felt particularly shaken up by an incident, grounding techniques can help you feel safer. Carry something with you that makes you feel emotionally safe and hold it in your hand following an incident of harassment. Or recite a mantra to yourself, like, “My name is [NAME]. I am in my house/with my friend/in [a business] and I am safe.” Pay attention to your surroundings by naming one thing you can feel, one thing you can taste, one thing you can see, one thing you can hear, and one thing you can smell at a given moment. Focus on your heartbeat.

When you’re in a safe location:

Seek support. Call a friend or loved one to vent about the incident. Talk to your roommate or partner about how you feel. Submit your story to Hollaback! Boston’s site. If it feels safe and supportive, use your social media networks to share your story and get assurance that you are not alone. Hang out with people you feel safe around and/or who make you laugh.

Connect with your body. Attend a yoga class. Give yourself an orgasm, either alone or with a partner. Go to the gym or for a run. Wear a fancy outfit that makes you feel good, whatever that may look like. Maybe it’s a tutu or a bow tie or a cool hat, or even just jeans and a tee! Get dressed up and do it for YOU.

Give yourself space. Take a bath, maybe with bubbles or a bath bomb or candles. Take a nap. Put on relaxing or invigorating music. Read a book that you can get lost in. Write yourself a love letter. Wear undergarments or PJs that make you feel good, whether that’s sexy or comfy. Write in a journal. Veg out with reality TV, Netflix, or a much-loved movie. Eat your favorite food.

Remember, you don’t have to deal with harassment alone if you don’t want to. Whatever you do and however you feel, we’ve got your back!

What have we missed? What techniques and activities do you find most empowering and helpful to deal with the stress of harassment in the moment or after the fact? Let us know in the comments!

Sources: “Street Harassment and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” by Trudy on Gradient Lair; “Our Streets, Our Selves: Tips for Post-Harassment Self-Care,” by July Westhale on Autostraddle

To download this post as a handout or resource, click here!

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I've Got Your Back, Shared Stories

“I decided that I did the right thing that day. I still walk.” | Laura’s Story

I have lived safely and comfortably in my small town for almost fourteen years. I am a woman with multiple medical issues and am overweight. I am disabled and do not drive. For the last thirteen years I have always walked to town (about three miles) sometimes alone to retrieve my mail or buy small grocery items. Once a month I go to dunkin donuts to get a donut and coffee or pick up food from our local restaurant. I have always enjoyed greeting passersby with a friendly “Hi!” and getting fresh air and some exercise. My roommate is also disabled so I do errands for her too. Last March I was harassed by two men. They were sitting behind me as I placed my order at dunkin donuts. Other than us three the place was empty. As I walked with my order to get some napkins one said to the other within my earshot “Yeah…….She looks embarrassed.” As if I should be embarrassed to be out in public buying food because I am overweight. I did as I always do with internet trolls. I ignored them. Because I feel to reward them with attention or recognition encourages them. I sat down and waited for them to leave. I hoped they would go away. No such luck. A little while later as I rounded the corner to the street I live on they reappeared from the opposite direction. One of them said to the other within my earshot “Look at her. She looks like she is having trouble breathing. Must be hard to walk to with all that food she’s carrying.” Then they stopped right in front of me. One of them stopped in his tracks and pointed right at me laughing hysterically. “It must be hard being an asshole. I understand,” I said. And I turned and kept walking towards my home. When I was a good distance away one of them one of them shouted “What did you say to me?” I kept walking with my back to them and said ” I said, it must be tough being an asshole.” He shouted back “I wasn’t talking to you!” I ignored him and walked into my home.

I decided that I did the right thing that day. I still walk. The only change I would make is that now I always carry a cell phone with me. If he had followed me home or continued to bother me I would have called the police.

Any suggestions for dealing with this harassment is welcome. Thanks for listening.

I've got your back!

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I've Got Your Back, Shared Stories

“Four times in one run.” | An Anon Story

In the span of one three-mile run, I was disparaged over my size four times. I eat a ton (not that that’s anyone’s business) but I’m very thin. Twice on my run, people leaned out their car windows and yelled at me. One yelled “Eat something!” and the other yelled “Stop running – you’re too skinny!” Both times, I was so stunned I froze. I felt like I was going to pee. My heart was racing more from the verbal attack than from running. Then, a group of girls at a bus stop dressed me down while I was waiting to cross the street. They said that my thighs are “scary skinny” and that I must have anorexia. I have never had an eating disorder! My thighs touch in the middle, not that anybody should be checking or judging health by this. They asked me what size clothes I wear. Not your business! Finally, as I was nearing home, two women, mid-40s, approached me and executed an intervention. They surrounded me, put their arms around me (did I say you could touch me?) and insisted I get medical help. These were total strangers! I’m perfectly healthy. I’ve always eaten tons. I never skip meals, not even breakfast when in a hurry. I eat protein bars between meals, and snack frequently too. Not that any of this is anyone’s business. My body is mine. It’s healthy. I am so tired of hearing “Real women have curves” and “No one wants to see a skinny girl naked.” Those are horrible things to say. I’m a real, 30 yr old woman, who is not curvy. I have a flat chest, but want the same confidence when nude that everyone wants. I deserve respect. Stop telling thin people they need to get ‘fixed’ to count as real women. Stop telling thin people not to exercise; the benefits of cardio are for the brain, heart and lungs, regardless of weight. Stop saying thin people ‘have it easy.’ Getting harassed and yelled at is not easy.

I've got your back!

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I've Got Your Back, Shared Stories

HOLLA On the Go: “I felt extremely degraded and objectified.”

I was walking down the street to mail a package when a guy standing there looked me up and down and asked me if he could buy me dinner sometime. When I told him no he proceeded to ask me why not. I continued to walk away, but felt extremely degraded and objectified.

I've got your back!

HOLLA On the Go posts are those submitted through Hollaback!’s mobile apps – learn more here!

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I've Got Your Back, Shared Stories

“What, you guys have never seen an ass before?” | Jane’s Story

My mom, aunt and I went for a quick shopping trip to the Square One Mall on Saturday. When we pulled into the parking garage, we noticed a young woman and a boy whom I assume to have been her son walking towards their car. At the same time, two men (probably around late thirties) decide it’s a good idea to stop in the middle of the garage and stare at her butt. My aunt, who has always been outspoken, rolled down the driver’s side window and said “What, you guys have never seen an ass before? Why don’t you take a picture you horny bastards?” and proceeded to park in the next space like nothing happened. I wish I could be more like her.

I've got your back!

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Hollaback! Boston, Local News, Noteworthy

Global Street Harassment Survey: We Need YOU!

We are SO excited to announce that Hollaback! sites the world over have partnered with researchers at Cornell to conduct a global survey on street harassment: we’ve got two months from today to collect data and get the word out, and we need your help!

global street harassment survey: we need you! // hollaback! boston

Last August, when we conducted our first informal survey in Boston, we received more than 500 responses! The information we collected allowed us to focus our programs based on demand: it catalyzed our MBTA ad campaign, broadened our work to include policy initiatives and helped us better serve other marginalized communities. Our State of the Streets survey was far from scientific, but it was a starting point; now we have the opportunity to go further with the help of a team at Cornell.

When you take this survey, you’ll be helping us to better understand the needs of our communities and the public spaces which deserve our attention. When you share the survey link with your networks, you help to broaden the responses and the sample size and to give researchers even more to work with. Data collected from New England will be added to global responses, but will also be analyzed and shared with us separate from the whole so that we can better prioritize our areas of focus locally.

We can’t do it without you! Please take a few minutes to complete the anonymous survey, and then pass along the link. The survey is intended for EVERYONE, regardless of their identity, experience with street harassment or even knowledge of the movement, and is geared specifically towards those 18 years and up. A Spanish-language link will be available in the next few days.

Thank you for all that you do,


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Hollaback! Boston, Kate, Local News

Street Harassment on the MBTA: Why Romanticizing Behavior Matters

Recently while looking for our anti-harassment ads on the T, a friend of Hollaback! Boston spotted something else entirely – a poem, as part of Mass Poetry’s “Poetry on the T” program, with a different message altogether.

poetry on the t // hollaback! boston

We reached out to the MBTA and Mass Poetry with the concerns raised to us:

Earlier this week, a follower of Hollaback! Boston submitted a photo from a red line train calling our attention to a Mass Poetry piece she found upsetting in its portrayal of a common street harassment narrative. Though we have great respect for the “Poetry on the T” concept and believe Ms. McDonough and the program meant no harm, it’s disappointing to see this poem on transit at the same time we’ve made progress in getting anti-street harassment ads on buses and a single train line of the MBTA.

In the 2 ½ years since Hollaback! Boston was founded, one in five stories of street harassment submitted to us originate on the MBTA or its grounds; harassment on public transit is pervasive, and though it changes how people move through our city and makes people feel unsafe and vulnerable in public, the behavior is often romanticized as in this poem and written off as a harmless and unavoidable when we do manage to start the conversation.

In selecting this piece specifically for display on MBTA trains, you’ve chosen to glorify the very behavior we’re working to end. Unsolicited comments, objectification of women, leering or staring, and taking photographs surreptitiously and without consent are all examples of harassing behavior that regularly occur in public and in transit; all contribute to reminding women and other marginalized people that they cannot expect privacy or safety in public, and leave many feeling vulnerable or unsafe in their daily commute.

As these experiences add up, they change the way people move through public space: some will opt to avoid taking MBTA transit, and others will rely on bikes or cars to lessen the times and spaces in which they feel most vulnerable. Over time, this sense of not being able to move safely throughout the city can limit access to education, exercise, health care and economic opportunity, and can impact mental health. This is why street harassment matters.

Hollaback! Boston supports community-based solutions to street harassment: we believe that it is by sharing the experiences of individuals, by turning our communities’ attention to the harassing behavior that is problematic rather than to the behavior of victims, that we can shift the conversation and create safer public spaces for everyone. It is only when we stop glorifying the act of objectifying strangers openly on the T that we can begin to challenge the assumptions of street harassment as harmless and unavoidable. It is neither.

In our work in Boston and throughout New England, we aim to serve as a resource – if you have any questions about our critique or the reasons riders are uncomfortable with the poem’s placement, or any clarifications to help us better understand your selection, we’re happy to discuss further. Several followers have asked us to comment publicly on “The Beautiful Woman” — we felt that reaching out offline first would be more conducive to constructive critique for the program going forward, and we hope that you receive this as such.

Thank you for all that you do,

Kate Ziegler (Co-Director) and the Hollaback! Boston Team

We want to thank Mass Poetry for responding quickly to our inquiry!

Dear Kate and the Hollaback team,

Thank you for your email and for connecting with us about this complaint and concern. We heard from the individual as well, and both Mass Poetry and Jill McDonough have addressed it with her today, but I’m glad you wrote to us to put it on the table as well, and we’re glad to be able to discuss it organization to organization.

We at Mass Poetry were surprised to receive the individual’s email earlier, learning of a negative reading of “The Beautiful Woman.” The response to the poem has been overwhelmingly positive–the best of any poem we have included on the T–so this very different reading was truly a shock. To us, and to the many who have responded so positively to “The Beautiful Woman,” the poem is as far from glorifying harassment as it comes–instead, we and others read it as a celebration of finding joy and beauty in the people and moments around us–something that seems far too rare. A poem celebrating the joy that a fellow bus rider’s laughter brings, and taking a snapshot of that innocent and beautiful moment, to us serves as a reminder that joy is all around us, contagious and to be shared. The idea that innocent and joyful moments don’t need to be stifled by the existence of abuse or harassment just because it occurs in the same space or with the same technology might feel to others a powerful notion and reminder of the good, and of the positive energy that can occur in public spaces like the T.

You say so eloquently in your email: “As these experiences add up, they change the way people move through public space: some will opt to avoid taking MBTA transit, and others will rely on bikes or cars to lessen the times and spaces in which they feel most vulnerable. Over time, this sense of not being able to move safely throughout the city can limit access to education, exercise, health care and economic opportunity, and can impact mental health. This is why street harassment matters.” We understand that completely, and to us, that’s also why poetry matters, and in particular, poems like this one, that celebrate the innocent and joyful moments that can be shared in public places like the T.

We are sad that’s not what “The Beautiful Woman” evokes for you or for the individual we heard from, but we stand by the poem, not only for the joy and innocence that we believe it holds, but for this very conversation we’re having now–poetry has the power to start conversations, open eyes, and bridge communities. While we never want anyone to be hurt or upset by a poem we include in our programming, we are glad to be talking with you, and to be continually working toward a better understanding with those people, communities, and organizations with whom we communicate through our programs.

I mentioned that Jill McDonough also responded to the individual today, as we reached out to her for feedback when we received the complaint, and I’ll share with you her note here, which was sent along with our response:

“I’m horrified that my poem brought up these unsafe feelings. In addition to being a poet and professor, I’m a lesbian who told a homophobe he doesn’t belong on my train, a woman who last Thursday dragged a huge suitcase down the car to get away from a lurching touchy drunk, a boxing class graduate who was very proud she stepped to the guy harassing the woman alone and told him to stop it. I’m sad that a world of too-many nasty subway behaviors has made little space for the sense of wonder and community I wanted to document in my poem.  Just in the way photography has been abused, and the tradition of subway shots like those of Walker Evans and Helen Leavitt has largely been forgotten, negative experiences on the T have made positive ones, like the one in “The Beautiful Woman,” harder to see. I hoped in my way to bring awareness of those small moments back, and I’m sorry I brought something entirely other back for you.  Let me know if you want to talk further about the poem; it never occurred to me until I got this note that anyone would be hurt by what I wrote. I agree with you that art should be used to create ‘a more beautiful and just world,’ and that’s what I thought I was doing. Best, Jill

We are happy to discuss this further, and glad to be in touch.

Thanks, and all my best,


We appreciate the power of art to spark conversation, but this conversation needs to be about the power of context: placing poetry which romanticizes racial and sexual objectification of a stranger to the point of taking photographs of that person without consent on the very transit on which such behavior occurs regularly is not appropriate or productive.

One in five stories submitted to Hollaback! Boston since our launch in 2011 occurred on MBTA vehicles or grounds; 63% of respondents to our 2013 State of the Streets survey who had experienced harassment in Boston had that experience on the MBTA.

mbta ads // hollaback! boston

We know that street harassment on public transit is a common experience, and it is one we’ve chosen to focus on through our current ad campaign. Art glorifying that same behavior, heralding it a celebration of wonder, positivity and community, perpetuates the idea that women and LGBTQ folks can be safely and harmlessly objectified on transit and, by extension, in all public space.

Hollaback!’s work is not about crushing the positive interactions that strangers can have in public; we’re not out to destroy small, joyful moments. We are working to undo the damage that recurring street harassment causes by changing the ways victims interact with their communities and limits access to opportunities; we aim for a world in which a moment of connection between strangers is not a vulnerability or a threat, in which victims know that their fellow riders and neighbors will support them if harassment occurs and will respect their desire to keep to themselves if they wish. The placement of a poem like “The Beautiful Woman” on the T, where so many experience a sense of humiliation and vulnerability through street harassment, breaks down community rather than building it, pushing victims further into a sense of isolation when they see poetic proof that society does not respect their right to move through public space as a person rather than an object to be admired and photographed without regard for their wishes.

These are the small moments that matter; these are the small shifts that need to be made for victims of harassment to know that they are not alone and are not to blame, and for our communities to begin a real conversation about the harm that street harassment can do to our positivity and sense of wonder. This is why context is critical to public art, and we hope that October’s selections for Poetry on the T bear that more in mind.


image credits: 1-Poetry on the T; 2-Natasha Vianna

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I've Got Your Back, Shared Stories

HOLLA On the Go: “He shouted so loud it made me jump.”

Was walking home with my boyfriend on Saturday night. Two men were sitting on the other side of the road and were clearly watching us. I was ahead of my boyfriend 5-10ft because I was dragging a grocery cart. After watching us creepily and closely for a ways, one man shouted so loud it made me jump.

I've got your back!

HOLLA On the Go posts are those submitted through Hollaback!’s mobile apps – learn more here!

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