Fed up with catcalls, Philly woman sets up a hotline - for street harassers

Cara Corrigan, 21, a theater student from Columbus, Ohio, is finishing out her third year at University of the Arts — and, last weekend, she decided she couldn’t take one more summer of lewd Philly catcalls. So, she took action. She launched a hotline just for sexual harassers, and created a template for cards so that any woman can offer up the number — 267-603-1172 — in a pinch.

Those who call in get a brief, to-the-point schooling: “You received this number because you made someone feel unsafe by catcalling them or harassing them,” the outgoing voice-mail message begins. (A version that can automatically respond to texts is also in the works.)

Corrigan spoke with the Inquirer and Daily News about the initiative and why she thinks it might be a better way for women to stand up for themselves.

 

Was there a particular incident that sparked this decision?

I’ve always been kind of bothered by it, and with the warm weather right now, a lot of my friends have experienced how they’re uncomfortable walking even a couple blocks to school. It’s very hard to get even from our apartments to the school building without having someone shout at us.

Specifically, my best friend was visiting Philly for the first time this weekend and we walked about 10 miles to sightsee on Saturday, and it was pretty much every other block someone was making a comment at us. We came home to rest for a bit, and I felt like I needed to change into long sleeves or jeans so this would stop happening. And I thought: “This is unacceptable. It’s 80 degrees and I don’t want to feel I can’t wear short sleeves or a dress just so I can feel safe.” That’s when I decided I needed to do something about it.

What goes through your mind when men make these comments?

I feel threatened and unsafe, honestly. There have been several instances where you don’t answer the person, and then they yell and call you a bitch. I’ve had people follow me or yell at me from their cars and then pull to the side of the road and roll down their windows and ask why I’m not talking to them. I have friends who’ve been grabbed, so I don’t know if they’re going to try to grab me or something.

Even if they think it’s just a harmless comment, you don’t know what they’re capable of. It’s pretty dehumanizing to be whistled at and yelled at. You whistle at dogs. I’m a human. I don’t want to be some object.

Have you tried offering a catcaller the hotline number yourself?

I’ve handed it out once. I’m not sure what comes of it. But just being able to hand something out definitely gives the power back to me and other people who are having this issue. Because it often feels like we’re helpless to this, because we’re too scared to respond in the street normally. Being able to hand this slip of paper and keep walking makes me feel like I have some power in the situation and I’m able to do what I can without putting myself in danger. It felt empowering. I can have the comfort of knowing I did what I could, and hopefully they will be curious to call the number — and even if they don’t listen to the whole voice message, at least they’ll know within the first line that what they did isn’t appreciated.

You’re crowdfunding to take a play about your own experience with sexual assault to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this fall, along with promotional materials that will link to resources for survivors. Do you see a connection there?

There’s a huge connection, because I personally was sexually assaulted last summer, so since then I’ve been really trying to recognize things in our culture that push rape culture. I think catcalling is one of those things. Part of what I’m doing with the show is telling my story and addressing issues in the world we live in that perpetuate rape culture.

Have you ever tried any other tactics to deal with catcallers?

I have talked back before. But it can be a little scary. Also, if I’m walking to class, I don’t have time to stop and tell every person who’s shouting something why that’s not appropriate. So I figured this was a really efficient and quick way to try to do something.

What feedback have you received from other women about the hotline?

They’ve all been really excited. I’m in a sexual-assault survivors group at Women Organized Against Rape, and they all felt like it was something that could empower them to feel like they could have some control and try to make a change without putting themselves in danger.