Some new sexual harassment MBTA ads that recently popped up throughout the transit agency are warning passengers that if their remarks aren’t wanted, they’re probably a form of harassment.
Hollaback! Boston and Mass. NOW partnered on the new ads, which were unveiled on T buses last Thursday and Red Line trains on Monday. The three posters display the messages, “‘Hey sexy’ is not a compliment,” “Are you a boy or a girl?” and “If you see it happen, have her back,” and warn that such comments qualify as street harassment.
“We know it happens more often in densely populated and highly trafficked areas. Public transportation is perfect [for offenders] because it’s anonymous,,” said Britni de la Cretaz,a director of Hollaback! Boston. “The victim is trapped, it’s hard to get away from [the harassment], and at the same time every stop is an easy escape for the harasser, so there is not a lot of accountability.”
Hollaback! Boston works to eradicate street harassment – also known as “cat calling.” The organization has previously collaborated with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center and Transit Police to place anti-sexual assault ads in the T, but de la Cretaz said Hollaback! wanted their own ads that were specific to street harassment.
Last year’s State of the Streets report showed that 63 percent of respondents experienced unwanted comments on the T.
“People seem to think that some of those benign statements like ‘smile beautiful’ and ‘hey sexy’ are compliments – but they’re not. We’re trying to appeal to the people who are not trying to cause harm,” said de la Cretaz.
One of the ads is aimed specifically at transgender people, de la Cretaz said, as Hollaback! has found that transgender women experience the most violence.
“We thought it was important to draw attention to the fact that it’s not just women; street harassment also affects the LGBT community,” she said. “Harassment is about power. When people see others not conforming to ideas about what gender is, it’s something they feel they have the right to say.”
Hollaback! Intern Kayla Hogan helped secure funding for the ad through Mass NOW‘s Feminism in Action grant, which is awarded to a young feminist in Massachusetts to carry out an education/based project that will better the lives of women and girls.
“My hope is that these ads instill a sense of community and support in Bostonians, dismantling the mindsets of harassers and transforming passengers into active bystanders,” said Hogan. “The messages in the ads are both informational and motivational, hopefully helping to shift our culture from one that asks, ‘Can we stop street harassment?’ to one that asks, ‘How can we stop street harassment?’ It’s certainly something worth thinking about during our daily commutes.”
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