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Last week, I was asked to share my story at a hearing on the recently filed bill to provide narrow protections of (and repercussions for impeding access to) reproductive healthcare clinics in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling striking down Massachusetts’ former buffer zone law.
As I sat waiting to give testimony, I noticed that the audience members sitting behind me were whispering furiously, and not terribly discretely, through any pro-choice testimony. As Megan Amundson of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts explained to the committee that her written testimony also included the stories of several victims of harassment who wished to remain anonymous, I heard a clear snort of derision. “How convenient!” my neighbors sneered. “Anonymous testimony.”
In that moment, my reasons for testifying, for sharing my story publicly and for the record, were reaffirmed: talking about one’s own most vulnerable moments, those moments which left such a mark on the memory that they cannot be shaken even as we move beyond them, is uncomfortable. It is to reopen that vulnerability, to experience the fear and the fury once more, and it is – frankly – unpleasant. And yet, my clinic harassment tale was not one in which I was physically assaulted, nor which caught me at a particularly trying time in my life; at first, I laughed it off, only shared the odd experience with my partner, and moved on. But sharing our stories, just like the shared stories of street harassment submitted to Hollaback! Boston, begins to change the conversation; shared stories show the breadth and diversity of experience, and shared stories from those who feel safe enough to attach their real name lend a credibility and an individuality that strengthens the testimony.
I am, fortunately, in a position to share. I am thankful to feel safe at home and at work, both physically and emotionally, and to have a strong support system; the repercussions and consequences I fear from speaking out, publicly and loudly, are not unfounded, but the risk is less than others may face. As a site leader for Hollaback! Boston, I regularly encourage victims and bystanders to speak up, to start the conversation, to testify; how could I, in good conscience, remain silent – especially faced with those whispered accusations of falsehood? “How convenient. Anonymous testimony.”
Here is my testimony from the hearing. It is not anonymous. It happened, to me, in 2008, and it was very real and very terrifying and very much NOT counseling, but harassment. Experiences like these are why protestors around clinics are a public safety concern. Experiences like these are why clinic patients and visitors and staff fear for their safety in public space. Experiences like these are why Hollaback! Boston has partnered with coalitions working to pass a replacement to the buffer zone law, and soon – because EVERYONE has a right to feel safe on our streets.
If you, too, would like to share your story of harassment and intimidation, at a reproductive health care clinic or anywhere else, Hollaback! Boston is here as a resource and a platform – and anonymous stories are always welcome! We are honored to publish the experiences that Bostonians have entrusted to us, and we intend to continue offering a space to safely share, to learn, to testify, and to spark conversation and prompt change.
Chairman Brownsberger, Vice Chairman Markey, Members of the Committee – thank you for the opportunity to address you today.
I urge you to support the Safe Access Bill so people can access health care without feeling unsafe. Even when simply accessing birth control, protestors outside clinics are intimidating and threatening, and we need to ensure safe access to health care in the wake of the Supreme Court decision striking down the buffer zone law.
I’ve been on hormonal birth control, in various forms, since I was 18. From my first period at 13, my cycles were abnormal, irregular and wholly unpredictable; to regulate them, I was prescribed Yasmin, a dual-hormone daily birth control pill, and it worked wonders.
For a time in 2006 and 2007, my birth control costs, no longer covered by insurance while I was a student in Boston, rose above $70 per month. The increased price was a burden. In late 2007, in an effort to be more responsible with my money, I decided to seek out a less expensive alternative. Without a local OB/GYN, I headed to Planned Parenthood. I was prescribed a different dual-hormone generic at a much more reasonable price point, but I had to go to PPLM every month to pick up my pills.
And so, I did.
One month, on a weekday morning, I arrived at Planned Parenthood in Boston to pick up pills on my way to work as a Northeastern co-op. There were just a handful of protestors outside the clinic, lining the yellow buffer zone painted on the sidewalk, and I locked my bike a bit away from the entrance. As I approached, someone asked why I was there – I assured him it was a private question I didn’t intend to answer, certainly not on the street.
Before I could duck inside the clinic, this counselor escalated his rhetoric: “You nazi bitch, you should be ashamed!”
I turned, shocked, and asked him to repeat himself. He did, and added other vitriol. I asked, from the perceived safety of the doorway far within the yellow line, what he had against a woman seeking medical care, before ducking inside, shaking as I passed through the requisite metal detectors.
That protestor was still there when I left. I was terrified that he would follow me to where I had locked my bike, and furious that I felt ashamed and frightened leaving the clinic with the birth control pills that my doctors prescribed. All of this, on a weekday morning.
Let me reiterate:
I was called a nazi bitch for refusing to tell a stranger on the sidewalk what medical care I sought.
I was told to be ashamed for consulting with doctors about my own health care.
Though it would have been simpler, I never had the courage to stop by the Boston clinic on a Saturday to pick up my pills; the fear of a protestor singling me out, engaging me beyond the clinic vicinity, following me as I left, seemed too great, the possibility of confrontation too real, and I was only seeking medication. I was terrified to face harassment on my way out, or to spend time unlocking my bike or waiting for the T to finish my commute. Ultimately, I was driven to find a different provider to avoid the stress of the clinic; I am fortunate now to afford to make that decision.
What is at stake here is the ability of people, women and trans men and queer folks who might rely on clinic services for any number of reasons, having their options limited because someone else made them feel unsafe in public, and unsafe accessing their doctors. Please lend your support to the Safe Access Bill so that others can feel safer accessing health care than I have.
image credit: NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts
You probably know that the basis of Hollaback! Boston’s work revolves around sharing stories of street harassment on our site. But did you know that we also accept stories of abortion clinic harassment? IT’S TRUE! We do. And if you have one to share, we encourage you to submit it to us. BUT WHY?
Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the 35-foot buffer zone that has existed outside Massachusetts abortion clinics since the 1994 shooting of 7 people at 2 Boston-area clinics. They determined that the buffer zone was a violation of protesters’ free speech.
But we all know that abortion clinic protesters are not just politely standing outside clinics asking you nicely to reconsider your decision. They use tactics like intimidation, harassment, and violence. And that makes for some very unsafe public spaces, which is what we are actively working to change here in Boston.
Luckily, Mass politicians are taking this issue seriously and are working on legislation to put protections back in place. This new legislation was filed earlier today by Senator Harriette Chandler. It’s titled An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities.
However, in order to strengthen the case for protections outside of clinics, the courts need to know how necessary these protections are. And the way that we can let them know is to hear from YOU! Your stories can change the world and here is an opportunity to do just that.
Have you been harassed outside of an abortion clinic? Tell us about it. Feel free to submit anonymously if you’d like. Tweet us @HollabackBoston. Tweet using the hashtags #protectthezone, #jointhedissent, and #notmybossbusiness.
Every story matters, and every story makes our case stronger. Protecting the zone starts with telling your story to the world. You have the power to help us ensure that everyone in Mass can seek reproductive healthcare in safety.
Not sure what we’re talking about? Here are some resources:
And don’t forget to check out coverage of the Supreme Rally, which we were proud to co-sponsor!
image credits: 1-NARAL Pro Choice MA; 2-Kate Zieglerno comments
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past week, chances are you’ve heard about two rulings passed down from the Supreme Court of the United States that strike large blows to our access to reproductive healthcare. The first of these rulings struck down the 35 foot buffer zone that exists outside of Massachusetts abortion clinics and the second ruled that employers could refuse to cover an employee’s contraception if it goes against said employer’s religious beliefs. Both of these rulings are troubling for a variety of reasons, and while it might seem obvious why an anti-street harassment organization is addressing the buffer zone ruling, we have good reason to be publicly addressing both of these rulings. Because street harassment and reproductive justice are two pieces of the same pie– both of these issues make up the larger fight against the patriarchy and our society that tries to control women’s bodies, along with the bodies of anyone trans* or gender non-conforming or queer, too.
According to research complied by Nikki Tuttle, Hollaback!’s LSRJ Summer Intern, reproductive justice focuses on the “control and exploitation of women’s bodies, sexuality and reproduction as an effective strategy of controlling women and communities,” because controlling a woman’s body consequently “controls her life, options, and potential.” Similarly, street harassment negatively impacts and ultimately controls women (and female-identified persons) by denigrating and exploiting their physical appearance (including gender presentation and bodies), their social and community status (through stereotyping), their sexuality, and their reproductive potential. We can, of course, expand this to include trans*, gender non-conforming, and queer bodies, too. We know that women are not the only people accessing reproductive healthcare, just like we know that women are not the only people whose bodies are commented on when they are in public space.
Both of these rulings by the SCOTUS are further attempts to control what marginalized populations do with their bodies, and this time that message has been sent from one of the most powerful institutions in the country. Is it any wonder that the fight to end gender-based violence seems futile at times? How can we expect the general population to get the message that everyone should be treated equally, that men are not entitled to women and trans* folks’ bodies, that harassment is a form of violence when the highest court in the nation is sending the opposite message? These decisions are basically making misogyny explicitly acceptable.
For our work here in Boston, the buffer zone ruling will have immediate effects, which we joined Mara Dolan on her radio show to discuss. By eradicating the buffer zone, any semblance of safety has also been eradicated. The buffer zone was the one thing that gave the impression to people entering clinics that their safety mattered and that there was some form of protection over it. If we’re striving to ensure safe public space for all through our work as Hollaback! Boston, this ruling is indeed a step back. Everyone should have the right to access necessary healthcare services or go to work without the threat of harassment, violence, and intimidation. And violence is a very real threat. Let’s not forget that the buffer zone was put in place following the 1994 murders of two staff members at Boston abortion clinics. Still not convinced? Read about Michelle Kinsey Burns’ experiences as a clinic escort. It’s frightening.
And it’s not just people entering the clinics that are affected by this ruling. In the week since it came down, there has been an uptick in protesters outside of the Planned Parenthood in Boston. These protesters disrupt the lives of anyone walking down the street. Protester Connie Cronin told the Globe that she can spot Planned Parenthood patients from down the street. “As soon as she sees her marks, Cronin is off, crossing the street to meet them long before they get to the clinic building. She begs them to reconsider, asks if they need help, keeps her pictures of fetal development ready in a Ziploc bag.” Not only is this disruptive to the people who actually are headed towards Planned Parenthood (and might very well be going for one of the many other services they provide; abortions make up less than 3% of their services), but it’s disruptive and upsetting to people who are just trying to go to school or work or the grocery store and aren’t even heading into the clinic.
We know that Boston has been especially focused on ensuring that our public spaces are safe for people who occupy them. This ruling makes for very unsafe public space outside of our abortion clinics, not just for patients, but for staff and citizens, too. On the plus side, the ruling “does not directly affect the buffer zones in other states and cities, and the justices indicated that more limited restrictions could be put into place in Massachusetts.” Like the upskirting law, it appears that a loophole in the language of the law itself was the issue. Hopefully lawmakers can rectify that quickly, like we saw with the upskirting law. And according to Politico, “Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said she had spoken with Gov. Deval Patrick, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and state lawmakers shortly after the ruling, and all were committed to moving quickly to protecting women’s access to the five clinics affected. Massachusetts officials will seek court injunctions and other actions against protesters who threaten women’s safety, as well as work with law enforcement, Coakley said.”
Here at Hollaback! Boston, we stand in solidarity with all patients, staff, workers, escorts, and citizens who are affected by these rulings. And if you experience harassment outside of a clinic, whether you’re a patient, staff, or passerby, feel free to submit your story to our website. We accept stories of clinic harassment, too.
In order to continue to fight, we have agreed to #jointhedissent. We’re sponsoring a rally along with ACLU of Massachusetts, The Connors Center, Mass NOW, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, and The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice to send the message that these rulings are unacceptable and make our city and state unsafe for people living here. We are committed to our work to make Boston as safe as possible for the people who live here, and we plan to fight for everyone’s bodily autonomy. Join us at the rally TOMORROW, July 8th at 5 PM in City Hall Plaza.
 ACRJ, A New Vision for Advancing our movement for Reproductive Health, Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Justice (2005)(“historically and currently, a women’s lack of power and self-determination is mediated through the multiple oppressions of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, age and immigration status”).
image credits: 1-Hollaback! Boston; 2-NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusettsno comments
On Saturday, the Hollaback! Boston team gathered with friends and volunteers to march in the 2014 Boston Pride parade, and we had a blast.
This year’s Pride theme – Be Yourself, Change the World – was a perfect fit for the Hollaback! mission of ending street harassment so that everyone can feel safe to be themselves in public, and we were so excited the bring that message to parade-goers!
We’d like to extend a HUGE thank you to the folks who joined us – we couldn’t do it without you! If you missed us, couldn’t make it to the parade, or if we had run out of them, here’s a peek at the eight-page zine we handed out on the route:
How did you celebrate Pride this year? What did the theme mean to you? Let us know in the comments!
image credits: Hollaback! Bostonno comments
For the second year, Hollaback! Boston is supporting a marching group in the Boston Pride parade – and we are SO excited. The 2014 Pride theme – “Be Yourself, Change the World” – is a perfect match for our work! Hollaback! is, worldwide, all about making our streets safe for everyone to be themselves.
We know that it’s not just women who experience harassment and gender-based violence in public spaces: LGBQ, trans* and non-conforming folks are at risk, too. Stop Street Harassment’s national report (released yesterday!) demonstrates this, as did our 2013 survey in Boston; the risks of existing as oneself in public are reflected in lived experience. When identities overlap, people can find themselves at an even greater risk of harassment from strangers in public, both sexualized and non-sexual in nature. All of this combines to make our public spaces seem unwelcoming at best, and worse, potentially dangerous – but we believe it doesn’t have to be this way.
Hollaback! Boston is not just for straight, white, cis-gendered women: our goal is to provide a platform to amplify ALL stories of street harassment in Boston, and to give you a space to make your side of the experience heard. We want to know how your identities are intersecting to impact the way you navigate Boston’s streets, and sharing your stories ensures that our team, our communities and our leaders can listen, learn and do more.
There will be beads. There will be ribbons. There will be signs and banners and plenty of Gwen Stefani shouted our way. Our marching group, just like our work, is not just for women – allies and friends and victims and bystanders are all welcome! We’ll be hosting a sign-making and parade planning meeting in Jamaica Plain on June 12; be sure to join the Facebook event for details.
image credit: Hollaback! Bostonno comments
We’re very eagerly counting down to HOLLA::Revolution on Tuesday, but this week held plenty of excitement, too. In case you missed them, a few of our favorite links:
Also this week, we hosted our second, worldwide tweet chat on bike harassment—check out the storify!—and conversations over public safety for pedestrians and taxi and livery customers in Boston are starting up, too. Do you feel safe on Boston streets? What constitutes “safe”? Have you ever felt harassed or unsafe in a cab or an Uber car? What about late night options? Share your thoughts with us!
We’ll be tweeting from HOLLA::Rev live in New York on Tuesday – if you’ll be in the area, don’t forget to grab your tickets! Otherwise, be sure to catch the livestream of the event; the lineup is terrific, and you won’t want to miss it.
Have a wonderful weekend!
image credit: Hollaback!no comments
Boston is known as “America’s Walking City” due to the high density of our downtown, making walking a convenient and desirable mode of transportation. In fact, it’s one of the things that I love most about Boston. I was raised in Fort Lauderdale, where walking was nearly impossible due to the sprawling nature of the city (see also: LA). Boston appealed to me because I could walk everywhere I wanted to go, and I felt more connected to the city itself and the people living here. There’s nothing better than being outside on the first nice day of Spring, when it seems like the entire city has spilled out onto the sidewalks and into the parks to enjoy the weather. I get to know my city in new and different ways when I explore it on foot. This aspect of life in Boston is a huge asset and a huge draw for many of the people that live here. And so it’s important for us to consider pedestrian safety, especially if we are and want to continue to be “America’s Walking City.”
What makes a city “safe” for pedestrians? According to The National Complete Streets Coalition’s Dangerous by Design 2014 report, it’s the “number of fatalities and at risk walkers.” And by those measures, Boston ranks highest for pedestrian safety (interestingly enough, Fort Lauderdale, my hometown, ranks among the least safe). This is a great thing, but I’d argue that there’s something missing from the picture of what makes a city safe for pedestrians, and how we’re determining what qualifies as an “at risk” walker. Because even if pedestrians aren’t getting hit by cars all the time, there are plenty of other things that can make pedestrians feel unsafe– including street harassment.
Who has the privilege of feeling safe walking on the streets of Boston? We know that it’s not always women, LGBTQ folks, and people of color; just because they may not fear getting hit by a car doesn’t mean that they don’t have other safety concerns. When we released our State of the Streets Report last year, we found that 97% of respondents that had experienced street harassment in Boston had experienced it on our streets. And when we asked those people how that harassment made them feel, 80% said “nervous” and 64% answered “scared.” You can also click on any of the pink bubbles on the map to the right of our website and read stories of people feeling unsafe after being harassed on the streets of Boston.
The discussion of pedestrian safety feels incomplete if we’re not looking at all aspects of being a pedestrian. Sure, it’s great that folks walking in Boston can feel pretty good about not being hit by cars, but if a large number of people (mostly non-white and/or non-cisgender male) are worrying about being harassed when they’re walking down the street, do we really consider Boston “safe?” If people are seeking alternate modes like bikes, cabs, and/or Uber to avoid harassment, how safe do our pedestrians really feel?
And if pedestrians don’t feel safe in Boston, how can we address it? That’s what Hollaback! Boston is trying to do with our work. Besides providing a supportive forum for people to share their stories of harassment and raise consciousness around the issue, we provide workshops about what street harassment is and how we can make our streets feel safer through community-based solutions. But that’s not all we’re doing. As part of the Elevate Boston coalition, we asked Mayor Marty Walsh’s office to provide community safety audits as a way to assess and then address safety on our streets, and that’s something that’s moving forward. We’re also part of the Mayor’s Late Night Task Force, bringing the perspective of public safety after dark to the table.
Our goal is to make the streets of Boston safe for everyone, and that’s not going to be a reality until all residents of Boston can walk down the street without having to worry about being harassed, followed, or assaulted. Physical safety from motor vehicles is indeed one aspect of safety on our streets, but emotional safety and physical safety related to gender-based violence is just as important in making a city a true “walking city.”
image credit: Kate Zieglerno comments
We work daily to end harassment on Boston’s streets and to make public spaces safer for everyone—this is our mission—but it’s important to also recognize that there are other risks, other forms of violence on our streets, and that everyone is not equally protected. In this, too, Boston must do better.
If you’ll be in the city on Sunday, consider joining the Mothers Day Walk for Peace. The walk benefits the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute and their ongoing, crucial work to support survivors of homicide and families impacted by violence.
Ours is a wonderful city, but there is still work to be done to make communities less vulnerable, violence less prevalent, harassment and assault less frequent, and individuals less accepting of the status quo. None of us can do it all, but everyone can do something; if the Walk for Peace speaks to you, please support the event and subsequent work.
image credit: Mothers Day Walk for Peaceno comments
Hello, Friday! Hello, Spring!
Maybe it’s really, finally here for real this time…but before you soak up the sunshine, a few links worthy of review this week:
We’re heading to Pine Manor College tomorrow to talk HOLLA 101 with Science Club for Girls, and we’re gearing up for National Bike Month tweet chats and Boston Bike Fridays. Don’t forget to share your stories of street harassment, on two wheels or off!
What does your weekend have in store? Whatever it is, make it a great one!
image credit: Hollaback! Bostonno comments
We are so excited to be presenting along some incredible local organizations during the second annual Raise Your Voice Summit next Saturday, April 26!
Join us at Northeastern University’s Cabral Center for a free summit for youth, adults, survivors and allies to learn intervention and prevention strategies, celebrate survivors of sexual violence and work to make Boston safe for everyone.
Register in advance using this form if at all possible, or print and complete it to bring along on Saturday to save time during registration! The registration packet includes a permission slip for youth, and allows you to pre-register for your first-choice workshop.
Last year over 100 Boston residents turned out to celebrate survivors, learn intervention and prevention strategies, and work together to ensure that our city is safe for everyone and that no one has to remain silent about sexual violence. This year we’re offering more workshops and expanding focus to include issues specific to men, LGBTQ survivors, high school and middle school aged students, and service providers.
image credit: Raise Your Voiceone comment