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share your stories of street harassment through this interactive map of melbourne

share your stories of street harassment through this interactive map of melbourne

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It’s Not A Compliment and the City of Melbourne have launched an ace new initiative that aims to tackle street harassment through research, art and craft, and stories from the community.

How many times have you and your mates been subjected to unwanted stares or whistles while walking down the street? The uncomfortable and even unsafe feeling of experiencing street harassment is, unfortunately, something that many of us know all too well. And despite its prevalence, the issue of street harassment is often not taken seriously.

It’s Not A Compliment, an anti-street harassment organisation (and former frankie Good Stuff award finalist) has teamed up with the City of Melbourne to research and raise awareness about street harassment. We recently caught up with It’s Not A Compliment CEO Aakanksha Manjunath, who told us all about the organisation’s ace project, Your Stories Matter.

What is Your Stories Matter? It’s a two-year project funded by the City of Melbourne that is all about YOUR stories of street harassment and the power of sharing your experiences. It involves:

  • An interactive map and survey that allows you to pin safe locations, unsafe locations and report an incident of street harassment in the city. The map will collect data to help the City of Melbourne create safer, more inclusive streets and infrastructure. A research report that will document all the findings will come out in April 2023.
  • A digital magazine featuring art and stories from the community, experts and activists that’s launching in the first week of July.
  • A mural highlighting the power of sharing your experiences and working together as a community that will come out later this year.
  • Four craftivism workshops led by four different artists where community members can connect with each other, craft and share their experiences. The workshops will take place monthly from January 2023 to April 2023 at the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre.
  • Light projections highlighting findings from the research report across the city that will go live in April 2023.

What makes the project significant? It’s the first project in Australia to centre intersectionality in talking about street harassment as a social problem, and to combine several forms of activism, artivism and craftivism that are accessible to all members of the public.

What is street harassment and why are you raising awareness about it? Street harassment is any behaviour that makes one uncomfortable in a public space. This can include unwanted comments, whistling, leering, sexual and racist remarks, persistent requests for someone’s name or personal information, general intimidation, threats, stalking, and indecent exposure or public masturbation, along with physical acts of violence such as groping and sexual assault.

Street harassment is not only about sexism; it can involve racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of structural oppression. We’re raising awareness because, contrary to popular belief, street harassment impacts the community in several ways – it’s a matter of rights and a freedom of movement issue, it has a detrimental impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing, and it exists along a continuum of violence. 

How do you solve a problem like street harassment? Achieving street justice for all can only happen if we change community attitudes and norms, and promote a model of collective responsibility for public safety. Recognise that street harassment is never OK and should not be accepted as part and parcel of our everyday lives. Be an active bystander when it is safe to do so. Active bystanders are critical – they have the power to disrupt actions that perpetuate and normalise inequality. (Check out our fantastic guide, 10 Steps You Can Take to Tackle Street Harassment for more info.)

How will the findings from the online interactive map be used? They will help us identify factors that contribute to the perceived safety of locations in Melbourne. This could range from things in the built environment, such as lighting or surveillance, to factors related to one’s identity that might make them more vulnerable, such as gender identity, sexuality, race and disability. These findings will be shared with the City of Melbourne to inform future safety policies, and will also be used for future research conducted by It’s Not A Compliment on street harassment from an intersectional perspective.

What is INAC’s take on using policy as a tool for change? We believe in the importance of centring affected communities to develop research-backed solutions that take into consideration the wide variety of experiences of street harassment. That’s why we support the development of community-led policies focused on prevention through education and cultural change rather than criminalisation of street harassment.

For many communities who already have strained relationships with law enforcement agencies, there is always a concern that the police will target and take disproportionate action against them. Criminalising street harassment could result in further unfair targeting and more negative outcomes for these communities in the name of very limited positive outcomes for those who have faced street harassment.

Why have you chosen to combine activism and ‘artivism’ for this project? Existing statistics prove that art increases civic engagement, ensures greater social tolerance, and reduces disrespectful, demeaning behaviour. Art also affects us in so many ways. As a creative myself, I strongly believe that art is a powerful way of conveying the cultural, political, and social and have firsthand seen art spark a conversation without confrontation.

The above is perfectly encapsulated by the Centre for Artistic Activism: “As any seasoned activist can tell you, people just don’t decide to change their mind and act accordingly, they are personally moved to do so by emotionally powerful stimuli. We’re moved by affective experiences to do physical actions that result in concrete effects: affect leads to effect.”

How can the public get involved with this project? Through the interactive digital map, you can drop a pin and fill out a questionnaire. Share the map with your community because the more people who fill out the survey, the more accurately we can understand the extent of the problem and effectively tailor solutions that tackle it.

Read our digital magazine (issue #1 is coming out in the first week of July) and contribute to issue #2, which will be taking submissions in January 2023 and launching in March 2023. Check out the mural located in the Melbourne CBD, which is being unveiled later this year. Attend the craftivism workshops and connect with other community members, and check out the light projections going live in April 2023.

You can follow the project as we roll out the different components by subscribing to updates here.

Anything else you’d like to share? Don’t let anyone ever tell you that your experiences of street harassment aren’t valid.