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  • Mia Penner

How Catcalls of NYC Is Drawing Attention to Street Harassment through Instagram Posts and Chalk Art

According to a survey by Stop Street Harassment, about 65% of women have experienced some form of street harassment in their lifetimes. As young as 12 or 13, many girls begin to receive unwanted attention from men more than two or three times their age. Catcalling can leave a permanent stain on a victim’s psyche, causing her to feel objectified and unsafe outside of her home. But the topic is often brushed aside, rarely slipping into the crevices of conversation let alone influencing legislative efforts. One organization, Catcalls of NYC, is working to change that. 

The project was founded by college student Sophie Sandberg, who hopes to raise public consciousness about the issue of street harassment, which she believes too many women accept as a trivial annoyance. Sandberg started an Instagram account, @catcallsofnyc, which asks its followers to share their experiences with street harassment and to detail the exact spot where they were catcalled. Sandberg then heads to the locations her followers’ mention and writes the catcalls on the sidewalk in chalk. 

Since its founding in 2016, Catcalls of NYC has gained considerable attention and has inspired related Instagram accounts in other cities across the world including London, Madrid, and Amsterdam. It has also expanded within New York City, now employing several “chalkers” to accommodate the influx of messages from followers. 

One such chalker is Devyanshi Chandra, a member of the Bipartisan Feminist Project’s expansion team and a rising senior at a New York City public high school. Chandra began working with Catcalls of NYC last summer. “I was always a feminist, but after several experiences of my own with street harassment, and after seeing a chalking near my school, I impulsively reached out and emailed Catcalls of NYC,” she said. 

Chandra believes that Catcalls of NYC is helping to bring attention to an issue that has long been overlooked and even tolerated by victims. “I believe that seeing these stories on the street really just starts the conversation,” she said. “In New York City, street harassment is really normalized and we brush it off as an everyday thing when it's something that genuinely traumatizes people. The chalkings really make people think about how important this issue is and how our thinking needs to change.” 

Chandra also views her work with Catcalls of NYC as an opportunity to educate people about street harassment. “Many people approach me when I’m chalking, genuinely curious and sometimes misinformed or unaware about the issue,” she said. “Sometimes, people will want to learn more, and I talk about what Catcalls of NYC does and why it’s so important.” 

In the wake of the Me Too movement, women and men across the globe have brought their stories of sexual assault to light, exposing an issue that had previously been swept under the rug. While several steps have been taken to prevent sexual assault in the workplace, street harassment remains a widespread issue, especially in urban areas. It remains to be seen how effective Catcalls of NYC will be at addressing the problem of street harassment, but the organization has certainly helped spread awareness about a commonly overlooked issue.

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