#CorneredInOttawa isn’t a movement and it isn’t an organization but it has made waves in the Ottawa community all the same. Everything began this past summer when a self-proclaimed pick up artist, Luke Howard, was harassing women on the streets of Ottawa. “It really all just started with women around the city quietly warning each other about [Howard]. He was harassing and secretly filming women around the city, then posting the videos on YouTube to train other men to do the same,” said Rosella Chibambo. Rosella was part of a community of women that started using social media to draw attention to Howard’s behaviour in the city. Eventually, her tweets were picked up for a CBC story and after conducting an interview with CBC, she stated, “I started hearing from people all over Ottawa who had been cornered by Howard in public. They felt harassed and intimidated by him. They were all worried their videos were online and disgusted at the invasion of privacy.”
The hashtag was developed soon after the CBC story ran. Rosella remembered, “Once people started sharing their stories with us, we organized a community meeting at one of our houses. Friends, acquaintances and people we had never met all crammed in to the apartment to share their experiences with Howard or offer support. Once the story about Howard’s secret filming broke, Howard responded with a lot of excuses, victim blaming and claims that his videos were merely aimed at helping shy guys get ahead.” However, the lack of truth in his intentions was made plain by the numerous stories that flooded Twitter complete with the #CorneredInOttawa hashtag.
“Before Howard made his secretly filmed videos private, we screen capped all of them,” interjected Rosella. Despite the obvious harassment, “[The videos] were incredibly sexist, racist and disrespectful,” she remarked that, “almost all media outlets ignored this fact.” Without the support of a variety of media, #CorneredInOttawa aimed to provide people with a platform where they could express themselves and their concerns so that eventually more note would be taken of the situation. As someone who works on media and advocacy projects for an international NGO in Ottawa and a member of the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women board of directors, Rosella pushed to help the project gain ground. Luckily, she was not alone in this endeavour, “many of the #CorneredInOttawa organizers have activist or media backgrounds, so we mobilized quickly and efficiently.”
As it stands now, the hashtag has connected with the community and continues to be used as a method to air grievances with the street harassment situation in Ottawa. While Rosella states that supportive tweets generally come from young people, they also receive, “broad support from across the Ottawa community. Ottawa MP, Paul Dewar shared his support for us, the Canadian Women’s Foundation was really supportive, Cosmopolitan wrote a piece about us – as did CBC, Metro, VICE and others.” Rosella’s own family is extremely supportive of her work with this project, “they’re… invested in creating safer communities. There will always be backlash, but we couldn’t be quiet about this.”
Rosella participated in an Ask Women Anything Question and Answer event last week to discuss equality, #CorneredInOttawa, and feminism among other topics. When asked about her approach to the modern day perception of feminism, she replied, “I identify as a feminist, but I’m really only interested in feminism that takes intersectionality seriously. As Flavia Dzodan said, “my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”’
If she could tell the women of today one thing Rosella said, “I would just say, you don’t deserve to be blamed or shamed for speaking out against harassment. No one has the right to take up your time and space in public if you don’t want them to.”