Monday, March 24, 2014

Hollaback Korea: Taking a Stand Against Street Harassment

Street Harassment. From Lefty Cartoons.

Before reading further, we're just going to have to agree that street harassment -- catcalling and other such sexually (or racially, etc.) charged attention, toward strangers (or non-strangers, really) is wrong and inappropriate and ugly. If you can't agree with me about that, go find a corner of the internet more amenable to your views. The different types of sexual street harassment are points on the spectrum of sexual violence, just as racist street harassment is located on the spectrum of racial violence, and homophobic street harassment... you get the idea. Make no mistake about that.

Plus, it only takes about three seconds of walking in someone else's shoes to realise that bellowing come-ons, or pejoratives, to strangers in the street -- of any gender and orientation - is really rude and intrusive. Verbal and other harassment, and also brushing it off and treating it as if it's nothing, creates an atmosphere where targeted people can feel threatened and oppressed, nervous to do things that everybody should be free to do without fear. Stuff like walk down the street. Or wear something they like. Or be tall.

You may have heard of the "Hollaback" movement. Start with, which was founded in 2005. Frustrated with the silence around street harassment in New York, the website allowed the victims of street harassment to upload photos of their harassers, or stories of their harassment, on the internet, to give victims of harassment a voice, and a means to fight back.

Awareness has grown since then, and Hollaback has now spread to 71 cities, 24 countries, and 14 languages.

Including... Hollaback Korea. The site is almost entirely bilingual, and it's quite easy to use. There is a map of Korea where you can drop a pink pin to locate your harassment incident, or a green pin to locate a harassment incident where you, or somebody else, stepped in to defuse or defend the victim. In my opinion, this is pretty damn cool. Posting is totally anonymous, so you don't have to expose yourself to tell the story that's been on your mind, or share the picture you took, or you can peruse other stories to remember that you're not alone. Any type of harassment, whether it's based on gender, sexual orientation, race, or anything else.

In December, I was contacted by the leaders of Hollaback Korea, who launched the Korea iteration of the Hollaback website on December 3rd. I've been in touch with Chelle B Mille, who's also a contributor to the Korean Gender Cafe, and suggested an e-mail interview, to suit our busy schedules.

Here is another Q and A here about Hollaback Korea that you might find interesting. This is the Hollaback Korea crew:

And here are the questions I sent, and the answers Chelle B Mille sent me,

Rob: 1. What inspired you, and the other contributors to this project, to create this page? Why now, and why Korea? 
Hollaback Korea: Our website and mobile app draw on great resources that Hollaback! chapters utilize in 24 countries worldwide. Several contributors to this project, such as Hany (돈두댓/Don’t Do That), Lisa (Stand Up to Sexism), and Maria (Jeolla Safety Alliance), had already been involved in or established their own Facebook or Twitter communities to address sexual violence or harassment in their regions. Hollaback! Korea is a way to connect us all to this national and international issue so that we can share stories and resources. The “why now” is really more of a personal journey, I had wanted to be involved in a project like this for a long time. I had participated in sexual harassment counseling training with Korea Women’s Hotline 한국여성의전화 (see what they do at and helped 돈두댓 recruit participants for their Slutwalk event in Busan. After 8 years of study and life in Korea, I felt I had learned enough to start a venture like this and was connected to great people in citizen and expat communities that I could partner with.

2. Part of the goal of Hollaback is to create a safe space to talk about street harassment. Can you talk briefly about the existence, and condition, of safe spaces in Korea to discuss issues like sexual violence and harassment, both in English and in Korean? 
HK: There are some fantastic organizations, several that we refer to as resources on our website. There are not as many resources to talk about street harassment, compared to other forms of harassment or violence. We need to do more outreach to the folks who wouldn’t already be attending an event or already study street harassment, we need to bring the project TO them if they don’t come TO us. For example, outdoor events and sidewalk chalk events (see below) are something we’d like to do all over the country, so we’re looking for virtual volunteers all over the nation. 

3. I've noticed that the Hollaback Korea website makes as much content as possible available in both Korean and English. Can you talk about why you think that's important? 
HK: In my opinion, in general, spaces to talk about these issues tend to be spaces that feel “safe and comfortable” for either nationals or aliens, and we hope that our project and our efforts to provide bilingual content can build a bridge so that we can all communicate and learn from each other. Inclusivity and intersectionality are our core values. We have generally had excellent media coverage but unfortunately, once or twice a major news outlet has decided to tell a different story and to pretend that this is a “foreigner issue” or come up with made-up headlines like “Foreigners say Koreans harass too much” which couldn’t be further from our message. I think this is a strategy to diminish the project and the issue, and a way to silence people who could come forward. It’s easier for some people to avoid questioning their behavior and to squash a discussion if they tap into the idea that ‘outsiders’ are the only ones making noise. On our site and in our discussions we take great pains to emphasize that these are problems that are not unique to any particular nation, culture, etc. and to make it feel as inclusive as we can for all to participate. We are always seeking Korean and English language content contributors, contact us at for volunteer opportunities. 

4. When I [Rob] attended Slutwalk, a journalist asked me if having a Slutwalk was an appropriate way to deliver its message in the cultural context of South Korea. If somebody asked that same question about Hollaback, what would you say? 
HK: Hollaback! Korea really isn’t much different from what you already see happening on Twitter, Nate Pan, Cyworld, Facebook, etc. in online spaces that are run largely by and for Korean citizens, so I think our use of social media reflects a great adaptation of an international movement to a local context. I think the idea of sharing a story anonymously can provide a tool to those who might want support, but struggle to find it. 

5. Do you have any other causes or upcoming projects that you'd like to draw readers' attention to? Is there something “next” after Hollaback is established and running well? 
HK: Over the winter, we were focused on spreading the word and working with adults. After 6 successful events with adults, we feel we started a discussion and that Facebook ( Twitter ( and our website ( are good spaces for adults to contribute. Now we are focusing our attention on youth programming. We have upcoming workshops for high school youths in Jeju and Gwangju. For adults, we will plan some future events but in the meantime we’d like our community members to participate in localized and even Korean-language white board campaign we’ve been running on Facebook. 

6. Why street harassment? Do you see this as a first step toward other discussions, or as an end in itself, and what do you hope this website will accomplish? 
HK: There tends to be greater social awareness of and action around workplace and school harassment, but street harassment is an issue that requires more attention. Every time that a community member visits our website and reads a story, they can click “I’ve got your Back” and the author knows that even if no one on that street, subway car, in that store, etc. had their back, the reader online is empathetic. That is a first step toward people being more aware of the harms of street sexual, racial, homophobic and gendered harassment, and taking a stand in-person when they witness street harassment. On our map, pink dots reflect shared stories and the green dots highlight incidents in which a bystander intervened. I’d like to see more green dots. 

7. What advice do you have for someone who's been through an experience that's been humiliating or violating, and who doesn't know who to talk to -- or has been told to hide, ignore, or cover up their experience, by someone they trust? 
HK: Please share your story with us, we’ve got your back. Each person makes their own decision about how to respond and what actions to take after being harassed. I’m not here to tell anyone what to do or judge them for their decisions. We are here to show our support, and to educate the public about the seriousness of this issue, so we need people to come forward and share their stories. It’s a brave and difficult act, but in our community we have zero tolerance for anyone who would second-guess, judge, or criticize someone reporting their story. We want to hear from you and we want to support you. Together we can make sure that this issue gets the attention it warrants.  

8. What have been some of the obstacles in starting discussions about this topic here in Korea? How have you tried to deal with them? 
HK: There haven’t been many unique obstacles. Generally, any new project needs to get the word out. We all work hard to educate ourselves and our community about what it means to be inclusive and intersectional, so we are constantly unlearning some of the sexist, racist, homophobic and gendered ideas we may have been raised with, which is an ongoing learning process for all. I alluded to the attempts by a few to diminish the project by pretending that it is a ‘foreign’ issue, but I think there is generally great reception to the project and the people we meet are very open to sharing and learning with us. 

9. Can you compare the state of these sorts of discussions in Korea now, compared with, say, three or five years ago? Are you generally satisfied with the pace of change, or not? 
HK: I have lived in Korea since 2006 and I think social dialog around sexual harassment has increased quite a bit in that time. I’d like to see more discussion of homophobia and racism, but I think these are issues that are also getting more consideration compared to 8 years ago. It is hard to be ‘satisfied’ with the pace of change, though, when you read stories. It is hard and frustrating for our volunteers to hear about violence. We just have to keep working together to push these issues and to create opportunities for people to unlearn their prejudices. 

10. What are some ways men who support the Hollaback idea can help in real life, and online?
HK: We have had 5 men who volunteer with the project, so I’d welcome volunteer contributions to help us run events, spread the word, and to create opportunities to discuss these issues with friends, co-workers, and family. Visit our website and click “I’ve got your back” and read the section on our website about how to “Be a Badass Bystander - 우리가 도와줄게요".  Be more aware of and open to learning about the issue, don’t judge people or diminish their stories.

11. You just used the phrase "don't judge people or diminish their stories." Can you explain to my readers what it means to diminish somebody's story, and why it's a problem? Maybe this is asking a lot, but can you either guide my readers to a place where they can read examples of phrases or arguments that diminish someone's story, and learn why they do so, or give some examples and tell my readers why these examples diminish someone's story?
HK: Derailing is one common way that people might diminish stories, here are a few examples relevant to safe spaces like Hollaback! Korea where people share their experiences. If I were to typecast some common examples of derailing, I could start by pointing these out:
Contributor to the Problem #1: This contributor might intentionally use what they call 'humor' to bait people who are already suffering from offline harassment, or likes to be a "Devil's Advocate." A Badass Bystander would focus on calling out harassers instead. This link is a good one to read.
Contributor to the Problem #2: This contributor tries to tell someone that what they experienced was "not harassment" or that someone is being over-sensitive or not paying attention to what was intended as flirtation, etc. Harassment is defined by the person who experiences it; we don't care about the intentions of bullies. A Badass Bystander would listen and learn, maybe even pick up some tips on how to be a better human along the way. 
Contributor to the Problem #3: This contributor asserts that only XYZ person has "the right" to do something about street harassment, as if people who are targeted for abuse don't have the right to stand up for themselves. A Badass Bystander knows that everyone deserves to feel safe in public spaces. 
Contributor to the Problem #4: This contributor really wants to protect women, but doesn't really feel comfortable with women sticking up for themselves. Or they view themselves as really open-minded, until they hear that their joke about bisexuals is hurtful and are challenged to think about that. A Badass Bystander really cares about empowerment, intersectionality [Rob says: see note below] and is truly open to unlearning their own biases. 
We all have some things to unlearn, we have all said and done things we come to regret. When I think about the last few years of my life, it has been a great privilege to have had the opportunity to learn from a lot of people that I've come to love, and an even greater privilege to learn how to apologize to people that I have hurt.

That's the end of the interview. I'd like to thank the Hollaback Korea people again for the time and the interest in sharing. Personally, I'm quite an idealist, insofar as I really do believe that talking about social issues is the first step in improving things, and because of that, I salute the courage of people like those in the Hollaback movement, for starting conversations where there used to be nothing but shame and silence.

*Note from above: The word Intersectionality is used a few times in this interview. Intersectionality is the study of how different groups experience oppression, discrimination, etc., in different ways, due to the same structures of power and injustice. Race, gender and sexual orientation, for example, are important parts of someone's identity, but can't really be separated from each other in any individual's case, so it's hard to study them in isolation. The idea of intersectionality helps people try to look at justice issues in a more integrated way, by thinking about how these different aspects combine or interact. One of the main things  intersectionality has added to the conversation is the idea that all groups benefit when they support each other and try to understand each other, even if on the surface, they don't always seem to have much in common.

Whether or not you have experienced street harassment, or any of the other kinds of sexual violence out there, Hollaback Korea is a worthy effort to start conversations that can lead to change. And that's good, and you should support them.

That is all.

Here is the Hollaback Korea Facebook page.
Learn more about Street Harassment.
Learn about Rape CultureLearn more about Rape Culture. And more. With examples. Seriously, it's worth it. Rape jokes are part of rape cultureMen, this is on you, too.

Oh yeah: have you seen this hidden camera? CNN Cairo dressed a man up as a woman to experience street harassment. Watch this. And 9000 other videos about Street Harassment on Youtube, from all over. It happens, and it matters.


Roboseyo said...

I'm sorry, I don't understand what the fuss is about. I'm a young girl and I've been living in Korea for more than a year. Many, many people have approached me on the street, some were creepy, some were awkward and obviously had no idea how to ask for a girl's number, many wanted me to teach them English (it's not my mother tongue but they can't know about that). However, I have never ever felt even remotely harassed and it was usually easy to get rid of them. Actually, some of them are now really funny stories to tell friends over dinner. And I've even made friends with strangers I met by chance. Where is all this harassment you are talking about and why haven't I encountered it? However, there is a special category of people approaching on the street - church people. They are the really annoying ones and it's so difficult to make them go away. They sometimes even lie when I ask them if they are from a church! Only to start their religious crap later in the conversation! The real harassment in Korea is church harassment I think. They have even come to my apartment to tell me today join their church!

Roboseyo said...

Well... if you haven't encountered it, then that's awesome for you! I hope the rest of your time in Korea continues to go as smoothly, and be as free of those kinds of experiences.

Unfortunately, not everybody has had the same experience as yours, including some wonderful people who are important to me. And annoying as it is, I have never had a church person make me feel unsafe or threatened, so I don't think I'm going to put proselytization in the same category as street harassment, myself.

Roboseyo said...

Hi~ since you posed the question "where is all this harassment" I'd encourage you to read the stories shared by over 30 community members in just the past few months at

Roboseyo said...

I have felt a bit unsafe at times but very rarely. Korea is so safe in general. I can walk wearing a short skirt in the middle of the night and that's no problem whatsoever. Most creepy guys will go away really fast if you just tell them to. And the attention from nice guys feels good. I don't know if you classify this as harassment but once a guy just came and told me I'm pretty. Why not say something like that? I have had ajoshis shouting at me 러시아? But I just ignore them and they usually don't persist. I am more afraid of the foreign guys, especially Muslims, well, they can be scary! But Korean guys are overall easy to deal with and they do take no for an answer.
I just don't think that is a really serious problem, sorry. At least not in Korea. I was bullied as a kid at school and this has scarred me for life. I still can't get over it. However, catcalling has never been able to even ruin my day and I am a very sensitive individual. I just fail to see how this is a serious problem. Especially in Korea (Korean guys are shy and introverted and they rarely shout after girls walking down the street). Of course, rape is a completely different story and it is serious. As well as unwanted physical contact of any kind and stalking.

Roboseyo said...

Well, as Hollaback said in response to your other comment... go ahead and take a look on their site of cases where people DIDN'T feel safe, or people DIDN'T take No for an answer. Unfortunately, it happens, and whether it happens more or less in one place or another... it shouldn't happen at all, anywhere, I think. The fact Hollaback is a worldwide movement in a couple dozen different countries is a good reminder that this isn't just a "Koreans guys" or a "Muslim guys" thing, of course.

Roboseyo said...

I'm sure you can find such cases everywhere but in Korea they are relatively uncommon. I once had my money stolen from my purse, however, this doesn't mean that Korea is a dangerous country and that pickpocketing is rampant. 30 cases in a 50 million people country... Well, let's just say that's not much. They are just isolated accidents, not a tendency. I know many girls, foreigners and Koreans, and none of them has had such a problem. We seem to be living in two different countries.
And just to add, I like going out, dressing up, wearing short skirts and I'm often just by myself. I feel for all the girls who have felt threatened but don't blame Korea because of a few crazy guys. Most Koreans are not like this and look down upon such people. Most Korean guys are too shy to even say hi to a girl, don't make them sound like sex crazed monsters. And btw, back home (I'm from Eastern Europe) I can never walk besides a construction site without being whistled at. In Korea I have never had this problem, construction workers mind their own business.

Roboseyo said...

@Girl in Korea nobody is blaming Korea... after all, Hollaback is an international movement, which obviously means that this is an issue in lots of countries. I think the goal is not to decide where there is more or less street harassment than somewhere else, but to start useful conversations everywhere. Thank you for sharing your views, three times, and for the third time, I encourage you to go read, at, about cases where people had a different experience than you and your friends. If you have nothing else to add, except saying the same thing a fourth time, you are gently invited to please leave the floor for others who have a different point of view, and have not even expressed it once yet.

Roboseyo said...

Oh, and come on, one of the cases is being stared at. Wow, that's some serious harassment we have there. I think some people are just overreacting. Of course people, especially older people in a foreign country where there are not many others like you, will stare at you. If that is really considered a serious problem by someone then they are obviously very lucky to have lived a carefree life. Plus that's more common outside big cities and it can be quite amusing, especially what children do (think of those older people the same way you would think of a child looking you up and down - they are just curious and you are a novelty for them).
Most of the time I receive good treatment BECAUSE I'm a foreigner. I have received things I don't really deserve just because I'm a white girl who can speak Korean. Most Koreans are extremely nice to me. Maybe being fluent in Korean helps but if you don't respect the country you are living in enough to learn the language, how do you expect people there to treat you well?

Roboseyo said...

Go up to the post, @Girl in Korea, and reread question 11, "Contributor to the problem #1" Take it to heart, and focus on calling out harassers instead of telling people being harassed that they shouldn't be upset.

Unfortunately, you will find yourself unable to continue leaving comments on this blog. Have a great day.

Roboseyo said...

I just found your blog!!!!

Roboseyo said...

You posted before about how the Bubble Girls are not offensive; you find them "funny" and don't really see what the fuss is about. A white American woman in Korea laughing at Koreans doing offensive African-American black sterotypes created by white racists.

Next, you post that as a woman, a foreign woman, you can speak to the issue of harassment because YOU have not experienced what others are writing about.

You privilege your own, supposedly removed, experience over the real experiences and emotions of others.

You have carried that same Western, hememonic entitlement and obliviousness to another country.

Roboseyo said...

What is the basis for thinking these two commenters are the same? I see different usernames, etc..

Roboseyo said...

I'm not American and I know nothing about black stereotypes and I have no idea who the Bubble girls are (and it's the last thing I want to know anyway). I'm not even from a Western country, I'm from the former Eastern block so what privilege are you talking about? All this just looks like it is an overreaction, I have African friends who have told me Koreans in small towns go and touch their skin to see if it's real, they pull their hair, etc, but these people don't find it offensive, just amusing. I don't know, maybe in the US you are very sensitive about anything that resembles racism or sexism or harassment so you overreact to insignificant (from a non Western point of view) things. It might be a cultural difference, I don't know.