She was living in Rabat, Morocco, and had been there teaching since graduating from Wellesley College. She had narrowed her choices down to Egypt and Turkey, but after seeing a documentary on Christmas in Turkey, she decided to give the country a chance. While in Morocco, she had experienced and seen many types of street harassment and after similar encounters in İstanbul, she was motivated to make a difference and aid in the fight against street harassment.
‘His reaction seemed almost worse than the physical abuse’
After seeing that there were no international organizations dealing with street harassment in the region, Kocher decided to start an İstanbul chapter of Hollaback! and reach out to women, both Turkish and foreign, who have experienced some form of street harassment. Hollaback! is an organization that began in America to assist those who have experienced street harassment and to try and combat it. The organization’s main message is that everyone has the power to help stop street harassment. Since its inception, it has spread throughout America and to 16 countries.
When Kocher first set out to found a Hollaback! branch in Istanbul, she was concerned that as a foreigner who doesn’t speak Turkish, she might not be well-received. Additionally, she felt that in order to effect real change, the organization needed to be for both Turks and foreigners. As a result, the Hollaback! İstanbul website is accessible in Turkish and English. It is the first completely bilingual Hollaback! website. The translations are done by volunteers of the organization, and all agree that the bilingual approach is important for the organization to reach its goals. Kocher’s hope that the organization would encourage Turkish women to get involved has seemingly come to fruition; the majority of the volunteers are now Turkish women.
The activism at Hollaback! İstanbul, also known as Canımız Sokakta, is completely volunteer-driven. All of the volunteers have full-time jobs in addition to the work they do with the organization. Even the group’s founder, Kocher, works as a consultant to major telecommunications firms and pursues the group’s goals in her spare time. The dedication seen amongst the volunteers demonstrates what an important issue street harassment is.
‘Lots of men were witnessing, but no one was doing anything’
Street harassment is truly a global issue. Kocher believes this is why so many people in the country are passionate about addressing the problem. Most women have personally experienced harassment, and most men have a story involving someone they love. A section of the Hollaback! Istanbul website is dedicated to women and men sharing their experiences. Kocher emphasizes the importance of women sharing their stories. She argues, “The first way someone can help a movement like this is to take three minutes and write down your story.” It can be cathartic for harassed women to share and read each other’s stories and a powerful reminder of the behavior Kocher hopes to stop.
Hollaback! İstanbul is aimed at fighting all types of harassment, from leering to grabbing to crude comments. Kocher and her organization fight for everyone to feel more comfortable in the public space. Hollaback! İstanbul functions as a consciousness-raising group, increasing awareness of the problem and encouraging harassed individuals to speak up. Kocher defines the group as apolitical and hopes the organization’s message will be embraced by all political factions within the country.
A feature of the Hollaback! Istanbul website is a list of tips for both those being harassed and those who see harassment in public. The site recommends remaining calm and speaking authoritatively when responding to harassers. Many of the tips are based off of Holly Kearl’s “Stop Street Harassment” blog, found at http://www.stopstreetharassment.com/. Holly incorporated the ideas of Martha Langelan, Lauren R. Taylor and Dr. Bernice Sandler, prominent writers on street harassment, into her suggestions for responding to street harassment. The Hollaback! İstanbul website also has a section for people to share their stories. Kocher says that when she talks about the organization and the movement to stop street harassment, people often will tell her their own stories. This online feature allows those who have experienced harassment to speak up and know they are not alone.
One of Hollaback! Istanbul’ first project was a 2011 survey regarding the types and frequency of harassment experienced by women living in İstanbul. The organization received 141 replies, and the findings were startling. Of the respondents, 46 percent of women had experienced harassment that involved touching, groping or grabbing. A staggering 93 percent had experienced some form of harassment, typically from men between 18 and 59 years old. The survey listed a number of common types of street harassment. They included assault, vulgar gestures or comments, leering, following, or whistling and honking. Hollaback! found that: “After experiencing street harassment, survey respondents most commonly felt annoyance, anger, disgust and fear. Many also felt insulted.”
‘It started to sink in how uncomfortable I felt -- even though the perpetrator was at least 50 feet away from us’
The organization has already visited a number of Turkish universities, including Fatih, Koç, Sabancı, Galatasaray and İstanbul University. The Fatih University Psychology Club even sponsored a panel-led discussion with Hollaback! to discuss harassment and sexual politics. Kocher describes the event as not only a great opportunity to get more young people involved in Hollaback! İstanbul, but also a chance to start a dialogue with students about the treatment of women. Kocher wants to use universities as a starting point for making women in Turkey, and worldwide, more comfortable in the public, shared space. One project on the organization’s horizon is a website that will compare harassment on campuses and give tips and tools to students who want to combat this problem. Kocher hopes this will not only provide resources for students but will also hold campus administrators responsible for making universities a safe place.
‘It’s been 2.5 years since that incident, but I still feel fear and panic riding buses’
A recent event held by Hollaback! Istanbul was the screening of the American documentary “Miss Representation.” The film explores the portrayal of women in the American media and the way this affects how society views and subsequently treats women. The Pera Museum held the film screening, and the costs were covered by a donation from the American consulate in İstanbul. The screening came about because one of the organization’s volunteers was interested in the film and initiated the project. Volunteers have a large degree of efficacy within the group, and projects are often based upon member suggestions.
Kocher explains that Hollaback! is constantly working on a number of different projects and is always looking for input. She believes everyone can have an effect on the treatment of women. She urges anyone who wants to create a safer world for women to “be more conscious of the way you talk about women, more conscious about the media you consume.” Discussing the effect media and corporations have on shaping the portrayal of women, she also stresses the importance of supporting companies with female CEOs, movies written and directed by women, and media representations of strong, three-dimensional women. Kocher highlights the importance of consumer awareness and explains, “An easy way to create a better world is to vote with your dollar, or your lira.”
Hollaback! İstanbul’s website, http://istanbul.ihollaback.org/, is a great resource for anyone looking to get involved. Kocher personally meets with all those interested in volunteering, and she can be reached at email@example.com. Additionally, the organization has a Facebook page at http://tr-tr.facebook.com/canimizsokakta and a Twitter account.