Hollaback!, the international movement to end street harassment, made history Monday when the organization’s Executive Director, Emily May, unveiled iPhone and Droid apps that enable New York City residents to report harassment in real time to their local authorities, including demographic, locational, and situational information about the incident or attack.

According to a joint study conducted by Hollaback! and the Worker Institute at Cornell University, only 5% of people who had witnessed or experienced street harassment reported the incident to security or a city authority. The new apps make New York the first city to undertake an effort to gather data with a goal of reducing incidents of street harassment; the city council supported the development of the app with an allocation of $20,000 last year. May said:

As we stand here today, I am mindful that some of you have been sexually harassed during your life. Lewd comments, gestures, threats. Public masturbation, groping.  I am mindful that some of you have been harassed this week – and I mindful that some of you were harassed today…

But today marks the beginning of a new understanding: even though we face harassment today and tomorrow, this can and will be changed.

Hollaback! has had an app in place for years that allowed people around the world to share their stories in real-time with a community of activists and like-minded folks engaged in the movement to end street harassment in their own communities. Those affected by any form of street harassment were encouraged to take photos of their offenders, place their incidents onto a global map, and share their stories through the existing app. The organization thus encouraged people who were used to experiencing street harassment to finally talk back – to hollaback.

The new app is an expansion of the existing technology which could theoretically be put into place in cities around the globe: folks witnessing or experiencing street harassment can report in seconds and rest assured that the NYC Council and local district Councilmember will receive the report instantly. The reports are also available publicly at the will of the complainant.

“Street harassment is such a widespread issue — and so under-researched,” May said in her remarks Monday. “To target this problem, we need ways for New Yorkers to speak up and out  on this issue. And we need Councilmembers that listen.  As recently as yesterday, if you wanted to report harassment in New York City, it would have taken you hours to file the complaint… Now, whether you’ve experienced harassment yourself or witnessed it and tried to help, you can make a report in under a minute.”

May was joined by New York City Speaker Christine Quinn, her wife Kim Catullo, and Council Member Diana Reyna at the unveiling. Quinn, who also released a plan for assessing the safety of neighborhoods across the city, added that “people who violate women either by their actions or words won’t be able to hide any longer. We will know who they are, what they do, where they do it – and we will put it to an end.”

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Carmen Rios

Carmen splits her time disparately between feminist rabble-rousing, writing, public speaking, and flower-picking. She is currently Communications Coordinator at the Feminist Majority Foundation, the Straddleverse and Feminism Editor at Autostraddle, and a writer with FORCE. Carmen is a SPARK alum and former Managing Editor of THE LINE Campaign blog. She's part of an oncoming anthology about girls' activism.