I recently posted about fighting street harassment using mobile phones. The idea has two parts: one, make it simple and fast to report street harassment. Two, take away the anonymity of harassers by taking a photo of the person doing the harassing (when safe) and posting it along with the harassment report.
To my flabbergastment (yes, I made up that word), the most common objection to this project was this: If you give women an easy way to post photos and stories about men who sexually harass them on the street, they will use it to falsely attack men they don’t like. Co-workers seem to be an especially big concern.
On the one hand, this is great news! If people are afraid of being falsely accused of street harassment, then they think it’s a bad thing. This certainly isn’t a universal opinion yet. Today, I stopped a man who harassed me and asked him if he thought he was doing something wrong. He didn’t think it was bad – but then he also refused to let me take his picture. Here’s the back of his head:
But on the other hand, this means people are more worried about women lying about being harassed than the actual fact of harassment. Several people don’t want to support the project at all because they believe the potential harm – of women lying in order to damage the reputations of men – exceeds the potential good – reducing the incidence of street harassment. In simple terms, better women harassed than men falsely accused of harassment.
Personally, I think the first false accusation of street harassment on iHollaback would be an incredible landmark. First, someone would have to care enough to fake a report (including anonymized email, time, date, place, incident, and convincing on-the-street photo). Second, the person falsely accused would have to notice – because enough people were reading the web site that one of their friends recognized their photo. It’s sort of like a blog’s first libel suit – Score, enough people are reading my blog that it’s worth suing me over! Woo hoo!
Speaking seriously, iHollaback has a strong incentive to make sure their reports are accurate and truthful. If your concern about false reports prevented you from donating to the Kickstarter campaign, please take a moment to reconsider. What is the likelihood of harm from false reports, compared to the potential benefit? If you don’t experience street harassment on a regular basis and aren’t sure what the benefit would be, please take my word on it. Just being able to report the harassment I experience put a smile on my face for a week.