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Sunday, April 7,2013

Local group uses new app to fight back against street harassers

By Cotrell Loftin

Imagine seeing a young woman in a bar. She is quite attractive and hanging with a few friends. A man walks over to her and begins talking with her. She is showing no interest and is uncomfortable. The man then grabs her and whispers something offensive in her ear. What does she do then?

Soon, students and residents of southeast Ohio will be able to "hollaback" at street harassment offenders like that guy.

The international organization Hollaback is giving power back to victims of sexual harassment in public places. It's as simple as running an app on your smartphone.

With the app, victims of street harassment can share their experiences and even take a picture of the offender to be shared with other potential victims.

Katrina Kadisevski is one of the founding members of Hollaback Appalachian Ohio and a graduate of Ohio University.

"I think the idea of using social media as a way to show people support in a situation where they're feeling alone, or they might not have too many people they can talk to and how to constructively use their feelings, it's kind of a revolutionary thing that's really applicable especially in the past couple years," she explained. "It's a really easy thing for people to do."

The group is working to launch its website in the next month. Though it's not yet live, people can contact the group through its Facebook, Twitter, and soon Tumblr accounts.

The app includes how-to guides about how to use it. This includes taking pictures in a safe manner without provoking perpetrators of street harassment. Along with providing an outlet for victims, former perpetrators are also encouraged to use the app to share their stories and talk about their experiences in an effort to give other offenders a change of heart.

OU graduate student Acie Middleton and Sarah Fick, who works in the sexual assault prevention office at United Campus Ministries, took a stand in the fight and brought this international movement to Athens, though they wish to help all members of the Appalachia Ohio.

"It just so happens that our immediate footprint is within the confines of the university in Athens," Middleton said. "So, the easiest way to get in contact with people is going to be through Athens."

Eventually, he and Fick said, they want to help people in the entire region.

The promotion and launch of the Hollaback Appalachia website coincides with Sexual Assault Awareness Month, International Anti-Street Harassment beginning today, and Take Back the Night Week, which took place last week. Hollaback planned to take full advantage of Take Back the Night week in promoting the organization and recruiting volunteers. They also plan to hold a film screening on Friday, April 12, at Donkey Coffee and Espresso.

"We're interested in not just sharing stories of harassment, but also bystander intervention so there's a positive aspect of it as well," Fick explained.

Members of Hollaback want people who are interested in the cause to help and participate as much as they can, in order for the organization and the cause to reach its greatest potential.

Middleton said he was introduced to the organization after meeting a professor in Women's and Gender Studies at OU, who taught a related graduate seminar. He decided it would be a good fit for Athens.

Fick said she wanted to start an Ohio Appalachia chapter separately, but was told Middleton had already expressed interest. They soon met and began planning to launch the organization.

The organizers of Hollaback Appalachian Ohio are all members of the Athens community and include some graduate and undergraduate students of OU.


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