Students Roos and Judith tackle street intimidation with sidewalk chalk

14 Apr 2021

Whether it’s whistling, yelling or making sexual jokes, street intimidation also happens in Nijmegen. To draw attention to this problem, students Roos van den Oever (22) and Judith Holzmann (23) set up the Instagram account called ‘Catcalls of Nimma’. They write true street intimidation instances on the sidewalk and share the accompanying story online.

Street harassment has been on the global agenda since the murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard from England. Roos van den Oever (22) and Judith Holzmann (23) have also noticed this. ‘We are now approached much more often when we create a new message for Catcalls of Nimma. People seem to be more concerned with it – both women and men,’ says co-founder Van den Oever, third-year student of Public Administration.

‘Through Catcalls of Nimma we want to get people to think’

The Instagram account Catcalls of Nimma provides an anonymous platform for victims of street harassment. The account is based on an international initiative called Chalk Back. This movement allows victims of street harassment to talk back anonymously via sidewalk chalk – not with a rebuttal, but by writing the intimidating, sexist or racist comment on the sidewalk, often at the place where the incident took place.

‘Not a man-hating account’

‘Through Catcalls of Nimma we want to get people to think. Street intimidation often happens in the dark, and we are bringing it into the light,’ says Van den Oever. Together with Holzmann, master student of Gender Studies in Utrecht, she came across the Amsterdam Instagram account Catcalls of Amsterdam.

‘When we saw that account we wanted to make a Nijmegen version right away,’ explains Holzmann. ‘After all, street intimidation happens in Nijmegen, too; this city isn’t as sweet as it seems.’

In its five months of existence, the account Catcalls of Nimma now has almost eight hundred followers, and twenty stories have been written down with sidewalk chalk. The students worked together with the organization of the Anti-Racism Awareness Week (22 – 26 March) to do the same on campus as in the city streets, writing down real racist statements on the street with the chalk. ‘Street harassment does not only happen to women and is not only sexist in nature. It can happen to anyone,’ says Van den Oever.

Holzmann emphasises that it is not a ‘man-hate account’. ‘Yes, the perpetrators of street harassment are mainly men, but it also happens the other way around,’ says Holzmann. ‘We are against the behaviour, regardless of the gender.’

Breaking taboos

With Catcalls of Nimma, Van den Oever and Holzmann mainly want to break the taboo surrounding street intimidation. They notice that friends hardly dare to talk about it. The two think this is because many victims blame themselves.

‘I cycled through town one morning and was catcalled three times. I couldn’t do anything about it – nor do anything against it. Often the victims are not at all in a position to rebuke,’ says Holzmann.

This is now possible via Catcalls of Nimma. Here the perpetrator is confronted with his own statement and the victims see that they are not alone. Van den Oever adds, ‘It is often a simple comment for the perpetrator, but victims can walk around with it for weeks. Sometimes they even avoid the place where it happened.’

This article also appeared in De Gelderlander.

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