Hollaback! Has an App to Encourage Bystander Intervention in Street Harassment

Posted on April 4, 2012 by


Image: Hollaback! Used with permission.

Hollaback’s website asks a provocative question: “What’s worse than being street harassed? Being street harassed while surrounded by a bunch of strangers who could have done something, but didn’t.”

Hollaback! describes itself as “a movement dedicated to ending street harassment using mobile technology.” To do this, they use an innovative approach that blends 1 part bystander intervention methodology, 1 part technology, and 1 part pure attitude. Shake, stir, download the app, and start your own hollering.

Bystander intervention is all about getting people who see a problem to do something about it. Ironically, research on the bystander effect has repeatedly shown that the more people there are available to help out, the less likely that anyone person is going to get involved. There are plenty of well-known cases — Kitty Genovese‘s murder is practically synonymous with bystander effect — but the process of converting bystanders into upstanders can be difficult.

Hollaback! offers not just an outlet for bystanders who see street harassment and are upset by it, but a specific action that any bystander can take.The Hollaback! app, available in Android and iTunes, allows bystanders to become upstanders by logging what happened at their location, including a picture if it’s safe to take one, and an opportunity to tell the story at greater length when the hollerer has more time.

Screenshot of Hollaback! app.

Why hollaback? The group’s website offers a few reasons, encouraging people to do it for themselves.

“Hollaback! is all about your right to be you: A person who never has to take it or just keep walking, but one who has a badass response when she’s messed with.”

And if not for yourself, Hollaback! points out the benefits to the community as a whole.

“Stories change the world. Don’t believe us? Think about Rodney King, or Matthew Sheppard. These stories didn’t just change the world, they shaped policy.”

Will reporting a single instance of street harassment really do much to change the situation? Nope. But by encouraging people to report these events, Hollback! is, in a sneaky, we-understand-bystander-intervention-and-work-with-GreenDot kind of way, building a community of newly minted upstanders. Bystanders often don’t take action because they are afraid, they don’t see it as their problem, or they don’t know what specific steps they can take. Hollaback!’s program addresses all of these issues.

The worst thing about being educated about bystander intervention is that it bestows upon you an awful/wonderful curse. Now that you know that there is an inverse relationship between the number of bystanders and willingness to help, you’ll realize that it’s up to you. Yes, YOU. The bigger the crowd, the more it is your personal responsibility to get involved, because no one else will.

The next time you see something that isn’t right, take action, even if it’s as simple as making a quick report on Hollaback!. Or offer a tissue to someone crying. Ask, “Do you need help?” Share a kind word. Aim a glare at the offending jerk. Call the police. And then turn around, and pass the curse along to someone else. The more we educate people about the bystander effect and what they can do to help, the more we make the world a better place.

Excuse me while I go watch Pollyanna. And after that, I have a crowd of bystanders to convert to upstanderism. Care to join me?