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This movie documents women’s experience of sexual harassment in public
areas in Istanbul in the form of stories recited by men. The stories
were previously submitted on canimizsokakta.org The movie is a part of
the bystander-intervention campaign called “I’ve Got Your Back!”
(Arkani kolluyorum!) that is brought to you by Canimiz Sokakta and
Green Dot. We chose men to perform in this movie to show that they
could be a great force in helping end sexual harassment in public by
disapproving of the harassers’ actions.
Special thanks to:
Kacie Lyn Kocher
Muzaffer Can Karadayı
Yavuz Selim Yılmaz
I cannot think of a single female friend in Istanbul who has not faced verbal or physical harassment in the streets of this incredible city at least once. Whether it was my friend who was trapped in a minibus after all the other passengers had exited before her stop and the driver refused to stop and let her off, or the friend who was grabbed while walking down her own street in a family neighborhood, or the friend who was chased down a busy street followed by shouts of “Natasha, Natasha” (a name that has become equivalent with prostitute in Turkey), it seems every woman has her own story of a time she felt unsafe during her normal daily activity. After living in Istanbul for nearly a year and a half, I have learned to navigate Istiklal Street and others like it with a set of invisible blinders shielding my view of leering men who often walk unnecessarily close and a set of enormous headphones to block out the sound of their taunts. Personally, two instances stand out in my memory of times when neither headphones nor invisible blinders could help me escape—once on the Metrobüs and once mere meters from my flat in Taksim.
In the first instance, I was riding home with a friend after watching Croatia defeat Turkey in football at Galatasaray Stadyum. I thought the hunched, aged man standing behind me had merely bumped into me due to the bus’s abrupt turn but when I felt a hand on a my back, I knew it had not been a mishap. Although I stared at him in shock and jumped away, my Turkish failed me and left me at a loss for words in the suddenness of the moment. A Turkish woman who had witnessed the event stepped in and publicly shamed the man by calling him out for what he had done. She then apologized to me in English for his behavior and advised me to stand with my back to the wall when riding the Metrobüs in the future.
In the second instance, I had said goodbye to a friend on Istiklal Street and was walking the 200 meters to my flat when I realized that two men were following me on either side. Afraid they would discover where I lived, I ducked into the nearby Tekel shop where I often buy water and snacks. The owner recognized me and after I described what had happened, kindly told me to wait there some minutes until his son could accompany me home. By that time the two men had left, and I was able to enter my apartment building safely.
Both of these stories stand out to me not only because of the disgust, anger and helplessness that I felt at the time, but also because of the assistance that was given to me by a stranger and a mere acquaintance. In popular psychology, there is a concept called the “bystander effect,” a phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely it is that people will help someone in distress because of the diffusion of responsibility and the desire to act in a socially acceptable manner. This phenomenon is often described in textbooks with the controversial and often criticized example of Catherine ‘Kitty’ Genovese, a woman who was murdered in New York City in the 1960s while her neighbors watched. What strikes me about my experience on the Metrobüs and when I was followed on Istiklal Street was that the fellow bus rider and shop owner who helped me acted surprisingly and were not affected by the “bystander effect.” They took it upon themselves to help someone whom they owed nothing to.
Recently, Hollaback International has partnered with the Green Dot organization. In connection with Hollaback, a Green Dot represents a bystander who refuses to sit quietly back when someone is experiencing harassment. My Green Dots were the female bus rider and male shopkeeper who showed that I can feel safe in Istanbul and that there are others who are brave enough to be bystanders in action. It’s important for us to act the same way when we are in the shoes of the bystander–now, I feel that I must pay forward the compassionate actions of these two individuals by helping the next person I see who is experiencing harassment, whether it be based on religion, gender or any other factor. The time for silence is over, whether as a bystander or as a person who has experienced harassment and has yet to share his/her story.
As a sociology graduate student researching street harassment in Istanbul, my graduate research brought me to Hollaback Istanbul last semester. Since then, I have been volunteering with the organization which is how I came to coordinate the “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign and bring together my activism and my academic interests.
Some of the women that I talked to as a part of my graduate thesis research told me that when facing public harassment- either witnessing or experiencing it themselves- they prefer to remain silent. One of the reasons preventing them from speaking out is that they are worried about the opinions and reactions of people around them. “What would all these strangers around me think if I made a scene? What if I am the only one who thinks it’s wrong? What if nobody’s got my back?”
But what if they simply don’t know how to react? An intervention from a bystander could change what you remember as an unpleasant and emotional damaging incident on a bus when a guy rubs against you to a memory of how willing people are to stand up for you and against public harassment. Yet, usually other passengers witness the harassment, and no one says anything or comes to help you.
The role of harassment witnesses should and can be reversed from passive individuals standing by to helping bystanders. How? Hollaback Istanbul in corroboration with the award-winning bystander program Green Dot has worked to bring a bystander campaign titled “I’ve got your back!” [“Arkandayım!”] to Turkey. The campaign aims at educating people to intervene when they witness public harassment and encourage people to stand up for victims.
There are several ways in which a bystander can put an end to an incident of public harassment: ranging from asking the target if he or she is okay to directly addressing the harasser or reporting him or her to the authorities (a police officer, supervisor, public transportation attendant, etc.). As a part of “I’ve got your back!” campaign, Canimiz Sokakta: Hollaback Istanbul has included the ‘I’ve got your back!’ page that covers other possible bystander-in-action strategies on their website.
Apart from learning how to have each other’s backs in real life, people will be able do it virtually by submitting a bystander intervention story on Hollaback Istanbul’s web-page. A green dot will appear on the interactive map each time a bystander story is submitted. We hope and believe that in the future all the red dots from victims of street harassment will soon be outnumbered by the green ones.
Submitting stories will become easier with the new iPhone and Droid applications that will be available to download from Hollaback Istanbul’s web-page. The applications will allow people to submit stories, pictures, and videos of street harassment directly from their phones. How will it help to fight street harassment? A popular YouTube video of Nicola Briggs confronting a flasher on New York subway proves that a bystander in action is powerful and a bystander with a camera on their phone is even more so. The video of Briggs confronting the harasser (who was later sentenced to 4 months of jail) was filmed and uploaded on YouTube by a bystander.
In the survey titled “Sexual Harassment in Public Areas in Istanbul” that I have conducted as a part of the research for my graduate thesis, some respondents indicated that they would ignore the scene of public harassment rather than intervening in it. We believe that the campaign brought to Turkey by Hollaback and Green Dot will alter this reality. It is important for a target of street harassment to know somebody’s got their back. This assurance by others and the community at large will give witnesses the impetus to holla back, respond to, and take actions against harassers. Only then will public places become safe and welcoming for everyone.
[My graduate research mentioned in this article is still in progress, and all results are preliminary.]no comments