HollabackPHILLY: A New “Decentralized” Ad Campaign Targets Street Harassment

By Alex Vuocolo |

HollabackPHILLY’s campaign on the Broad Street Line does not mince words. (Images c/o HollabackPHILLY)

Street harassment has been called a “gateway crime” because it creates an atmosphere where inappropriate sexual advances become a casual and inevitable fact of life. When cat-calls and other suggestive remarks are allowed free-range, groping, exposure and even violence follow suit.

This, at least, has been the conclusion of a number of surveys by Hollaback — an international advocacy organization aimed at sharing the stories of harassed women and LGBTQ individuals and fighting street harassment in cities across the world.

But research is just one facet of Hollaback’s strategy. Storytelling, educational workshops and advertising also play a role. What is unique to Hollaback is that has a presence in 64 cities, ranging from New York City to Istanbul, that have the autonomy to decide which strategies are best suited to their cities and cultures. Local organizers can submit a form to start their own Hollaback (or join an existing chapter) via their website. Once accepted, the parent organization will provide webinars and trainings on how to establish a Facebook and Twitter prescense.

However the messaging is not tight, rather a “decentralized” approach is applied.

From the website: 

“…Traditional nonprofit best practices would have you believe that a tight and coordinated messaging strategy is the only way to go.  From a business perspective they might be right: a clear coordinated voice can be a powerful thing to the media especially.  But the the one-message strategy leaves too many silenced.  The result is multiple nonprofits popping up around the same issue with slightly different messaging strategies, each one trying to ensure that their unique voices are heard. The new nonprofits make the same mistakes as the old nonprofits–allowing room for only one, coordinated message.  This creates redundancy, and the lack of true voices and representation still isn’t solved. By embodying the true meaning of “grassroots,” Hollaback’s decentralized leadership structure give people who aren’t paid to do the work the same amount of room to lead and the people who are.”

Here in Philadelphia, the local branch continues to develop its own strategy for addressing the problem. Earlier this month, HollabackPHILLY started an ad-campaign in SEPTA trains that is attempting to make the general public more aware about what constitutes street harassment.

One sign lists common examples of harassment — like “hey sexy” or “lookin’ good” — and suggests more appropriate ways to address strangers. The idea is to help people understand that street harassment comes in many forms.

Anna Kegler, media coordinator for HollabackPHILLY, said that the ad-campaign is a way to expand their educational workshops into the public realm. “A lot of the work that Hollaback does is online-focused,” she said, “but I feel like a lot of the time we’re kind of preaching to the choir about big issues.”

SEPTA trains were targeted, she added, because they contain a “captive audience,” and they are also an important area to combat street harassment.

While other branches have used public advertising, this campaign was created entirely by the Philadelphia branch. Creative work was sourced to local artists and funding had to found without the help of the national organization.

“We have the freedom to plan the projects,” Kegler said, “but we also have to come up with the money to make it happen.”

For Kegler the autonomy is worth it. With the help of organizations like the Center for Progressive Leadership, which provided seminars on fundraising earlier this year, HollabackPHILLY is enjoying its ability to experiment with different projects. WorldWide Visionaries and the Women and Girls Foundation have also supported the launch of the local program.

Currently, an anti-harassment comic book and an adventure-based educational video game are in the works. The comic book will be on display at this year’s ComicCon in Philadelphia.

“I think that our creativity is across the spectrum because each branch is so different,” Kegler said.


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