Standing Up to Harassment

Anti-Street Harassment Week Comes to Montreal

  • Ste Catherine St. and McGill College Ave. Photos Brandon Johnston

  • Bleury St. and Ste. Cotherine St. Photo Amelia Moses

  • Sherbrooke Street and University Ave. Photo Amelia Moses

  • Crescent Street and René-Lévesque Blvd. Photos Brandon Johnston

The majority of women in the world have experienced street harassment in some form. Whether it is in the form of inappropriate comments, leering or assault, unwelcome harassment in public space is an epidemic that occurs worldwide.

The problem has been brought to national attention in the past few years with groups like Hollaback documenting the experiences of victims of street harassment. Started in New York City, the organization tries to put together events worldwide for Anti-Street Harassment Week.

“Part of the thing with street harassment is that it’s individuals towards other individuals—but it’s always in public, with people around,” said Kira Poirier of Hollaback Montreal. “It shouldn’t just be the responsibility of the victim to constantly defend themselves.”

For Anti-Street Harassment Week, which runs from April 7 to April 14, Hollaback Montreal is hosting a workshop teaching people what street harassment is and how to react when it happens, but also focusing on the sometimes-overlooked role of the bystander.

Hollaback is a website active in 30 countries around the world where street-harassment victims can log their experiences on a map of their city, stating what happened in order to highlight the frequency of such incidents.

Historically, the voices of people targeted by harassers have been silenced or dismissed, something they say perpetuates the opinion that harassment is acceptable or inconsequential.

Poirier, the site leader of the Montreal webpage, says their goal is to do outreach with other organizations with the hopes of ultimately trying to end street harassment.

“If it’s happening in public there are other people watching this happen as well, and I think as a community we want to have each others’ back, we want to help people feel safe in public space,” she said.

Poirier says that the role of the bystander always depends on the situation, but your first priority should be that you’re not creating danger for yourself in intervening.

“You can try to deflect the attention of the person who is doing the harassing away from harassing, you can ask them, ‘What’s the time?’” she said. “You can even do something simple as standing a little bit closer to the target, you can pretend they’re your friend—there are many ways you can go about it even without confronting the person doing the harassing.”

Poirier contacted Hollaback two years ago when she realized that Montreal didn’t yet have a branch.

“It can be just a humiliating and isolating experience, being street harassed,” she said, mentioning that the well-being of the victim was a main motivation for hosting a workshop mostly dedicated to how to react as a bystander.

Poirier hopes that audience participation will fuel the event, saying that they will mostly focus on first-hand accounts and workshop situations participants have seen or done in the past.

Stand Up, Speak Out—Street Harassment and the role of bystanders / April 11 / Simone de Beauvoir Institute (2170 Bishop St.) / 6:30 p.m.

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