If you’ve ever been unwelcomely whistled to, honked at, or had vulgar comments thrown at you while walking down the streets of Philadelphia, director of anti-street harassment group HollabackPHILLY Rochelle Keyhan wants City Council to help make sure you never have to experience this again.
"These are all negative experiences that most often occur when women are walking to work; when they really need to be mentally in the right place. Women should not have to experience this, so we’re engaging city council to think of creative ways to improve the way we interact with people in public," Keyhan said.
On Thursday at a hearing before city council, Keyhan and members of HollabackPHILLY will present survey data and testimony from community members who have experienced street harassment. The purpose of the hearing is to encourage city council to partner with the organization for a safety audit that would assess gender-based safety in Philadelphia’s public spaces.
Street harassment is generally defined by anti-harassment groups as an action or comment by a stranger in a public place that is disrespectful or threatening, and is generally motivated by gender.
According to Keyhan, a safety audit will help to bring attention to violence against women in public spaces, by evaluating how safe community members feel in their neighborhoods and potentially identifying ways to make the spaces safer.
The audit would consist of an analysis of exploratory walks in various neighborhoods, primarily conducted by groups of women who live and work in the community.
"An audit will help, at least, reduce the feelings of fear that go along with street harassment," she said.
"What we’ve done is humanize the experience, because it’s an issue that is sometimes easy to brush off. But when it’s one person after another telling their stories, it’s going to encourage community members who are otherwise not aware of street harassment to consider their streets and the safety of their streets."
Women’s Way is one of several organizations that have partnered with HollabackPHILLY to encourage participation from city council.
Director of Public Policy for Women’s Way, Jen Horowitz says members of her organization will testify at Thursday’s hearing in support of HollabackPHILLY’s effort.
"We are specifically partnering with Hollaback on this initiative and we also share a lot of similar interest areas with them," Horowitz said.
"It’s very important to recognize that violence against women happens every day in our communities. This hearing will address one facet of how this happens and will help to increase awareness of something that is usually talked about in spurts. This will help to address the issue in new and different ways to make sure there is a path to actionable, sustainable change. There’s always more than can be done."
For the past two years Keyhan has lead the local chapter of Hollaback, a national non-profit founded in 2005 whose mission is to develop new strategies so women don't feel harassed or intimidated in public spaces and to help people better understand what street harassment is.
Keyhan says she’s hopeful that city council will get involved in the project, but if not, the organization will move forward with its mission anyway.
"It would be great to have the support of city council because they could really help us with our data analysis and connecting us with people in the community," she said. "Even if the entire council does not get on board, having even just one council member with us will help us to reach out and touch people in these neighborhoods to get them involved."
HollabackPHILLY's survey of over 400 people in Philadelphia found that more than 93-percent of people surveyed had been harassed in the past year. 18-percent of people surveyed said they had been harassed daily.