Hidden-Camera Actress Who Was the Subject of Catcalls Is a Sexual-Assault Survivor

Don't. Read. The comments.

As if you needed a reminder.

Filmmaker Rob Bliss and actress Shoshana Roberts teamed up with a well-known anti-street-harassment advocacy group called Hollaback to make a video of the daily sexual harassment so many women know about in New York City.

"We got an email from [Bliss] and he said his girlfriend got street-harassed all the time," said Hollaback executive director Emily May. "He thought, 'If they understood what it felt like, they wouldn't do it anymore.' "

And so the two-minute video, which has been spreading through the internet like a wildfire, tracks Roberts as she walks through Manhattan, putting together all the so-called "best" (worst) footage of guys trying to get her attention.

"It was a documentary," May said. "We didn't set anyone up. We didn't have to, unfortunately."

And as if trolls really, really wanted to prove that this video was necessary, some of the YouTube comments Roberts got were cruel.

Not cruel as in, "You're a poo face." More like cruel as in:

ARE YOU SERIOUS!!! GUYS WOULD LITERALLY MURDER BABY GOATS JUST TO GET A 20TH OF THE EXPERIENCE SHE GOT IN 10 HOURS!!! All I see is a women who doesn't acknowledge compliments from people and thinks being called beautiful is harassment. WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE!!! THE VAST MAJORITY OF THOSE THINGS WERE COMPLIMENTS AND SHE JUST BITCH FACES THEM. That one guy who followed her was definitely creepy. However being complimented just by walking down the street is something most guys would kill for. Female privilege. 

Hollaback also tells the Voice that some commenters have threatened Roberts with rape, but the threats had since been taken down from YouTube.

A headshot from Roberts's professional website
A headshot from Roberts's professional website

How ironic. Roberts, an actress by day, got involved with the video after seeing a Craigslist ad on a friend's Facebook page. She says she chose to do the video because she's a survivor of multiple sexual assaults in middle school, high school, and college.

"My experiences have been many," she says. Roberts doesn't want to go into much detail. But she remembers times when she used the word "no, and used it strongly" -- and found her words ignored. "I've filed police reports on some. With others, I never mentioned anything to anybody."

For Roberts, there's a parallel between the catcalls she gets on the street and the assault she's faced in her past. "It happens whether I'm in moccasins or high heels," she says. "It can happen to anyone." She's got a first-degree black belt in tae kwon do, but when it comes to harassment, she's got no advice for women who want to feel safe on the street.

"I am still trying to figure that out myself," she says. "I don't know what to do, that's the thing."

So she picked out a high-necked T-shirt and jeans -- "because it's not what you wear!" -- and started walking. (And continued walking, for 10 hours, which the resultant video pares down into that abovementioned, er, "best of.")

Judging by the nearly 300,000 views so far, Roberts isn't alone: Rachel Maddow described it as "easily the most recurrent video" in her feed today. Young women took to Twitter to express a daily familiarity with the subject matter. Others sent Roberts cuddly animals to express their solidarity and drown out the negative comments.

May, of Hollaback, says that the anti-street-harassment group saw a different kind of support, too: They got about 20 donations today -- mostly small, and most of them from men.

"I think men are fed up with this too," she says. "It really ruins it for the nice guys. We all want to live in a world where you can say, 'Good morning, how are you'...without worrying this is going to escalate."

But...this is the internet. And for all the cute bunnies and cash that it can raise, there's always someone out there who wants to offer up some serious vitriol:

We'll just let some dude named Abe Whaley drop the mic on this one...


Send news tips to ktoth@villagevoice.com Follow @kat_toth on Twitter

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