Chalk Back

Chalk Back is an international youth-led movement to end gender-based street harassment.

Photo of Sophie Sandberg
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  • Technology

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  • No

Eligibility: Date of Birth


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917-846-7101 315 West 106 Street Apt. 2A New York: New York (10025)

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Date You Started Your Project Started

March / 29 / 2016

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

I am on a mission to end gender-based street harassment because on a daily basis young girls are sexualized before they even hit puberty. Women of color are fetishized because of their race or ethnicity. LGBTQ+ individuals are on the receiving end of hateful homophobic and transphobic sentiments. Solving this problem is imperative for creating equal access to public spaces and addressing dangerous attitudes towards marginalized people.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

My solution is to mobilize young people around the world to fight back against gender-based street harassment by documenting instances of harassment verbatim in chalk and sharing their images through digital media. The goal of the public art is to empower victims and make all passersby consider the experience of being harassed. The images, posted to Instagram, illustrate how widespread street harassment is. Each local account within the Chalk Back movement becomes a platform to educate, create community and promote story sharing. The act of “chalking back” has its own bold and unique impact. Placing the harsh reality of vulgar phrases in plain sight and colorful chalk compels awareness from everyone. Catcalls of NYC has already set an example for young people around the world to take action against harassment. Because this solution is different, creative, and digital, it has spread and turned into a global movement. Feeling helpless when faced with oppression is not uncommon. Many young people feel they are not capable of making meaningful change. This solution works because young people can take power into their own hands, literally, and make change within their communities.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

Growing up in New York City, I began facing street harassment in middle school. The comments about my appearance made me extremely self conscious. I could never respond to the objectifying words which made me feel continually silenced. As I got older, I was struck by the connections between these words and larger issues: gender-based attitudes, safety and comfort in public spaces. These experiences drastically affected my day-to-day life, and yet they were often belittled as “just words” or “no big deal.” After my first catcalling experience, my dad suggested I dress differently to avoid unwanted attention. My work is inspired by the feeling of helplessness that resulted from this situation. I want others facing harassment to take action, reclaim the streets, and not question for a second whether it was their fault.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

One way to join Chalk Back is by starting a local site. For example, Alessia from Rome who is 19, explains her decision to bring Chalk Back to her city: “It took me a long time to realize that I could be capable of chalking. At the beginning I did not want to start an account: I was scared. I wanted someone else in Rome to take this responsibility, and so I was checking Instagram everyday hoping to find a page for my city. Everyone around me had at least one story of verbal abuse and it was appalling to know I couldn’t do anything for them. When I got catcalled again I finally realized I could’ve been the change that I wanted to see. I created a page not to speak up for other victims, but to help them raise their own voice and overcome their fear of being silenced.” Alessia’s story is proof of the difference this initiative makes in the lives of individuals and their communities.

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

I have deep respect for other organizations working to end street harassment. I have been lucky to work with Hollaback! as part of their communications team. I have collaborated with Stop Street Harassment during International Anti-SH Week. Fostering relationships with these organizations is important. However, my initiative is unique in its accessibility to young people. It is bold, creative and hands-on. It has gained traction with youth because getting involved doesn’t require a degree or professional experience. Anyone who’s passionate about ending street harassment can make an impact.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

This past Spring, a group of 23 German students traveling with a youth leadership initiative, YouthBridge Munich, invited me to speak to them about Catcalls of NYC. Afterwards they spoke about me on their Instagram page (translated to English): “A few weeks ago we made a trip to New York and met Sophie… and how the meeting went is actually hard to put into words. Because Sophie is an incredibly strong young woman who is very friendly, open and helpful, she has a very clear mindset and is super motivated but not intrusive. [She] honestly shares her stories, but lets those who want to tell her their own experiences and likes to listen…” Some of the students were inspired to take what I was doing and bring it to Munich with @catcallsofmuc. They are now 1 of the 150 Chalk Back sites around the world in 39 countries, on 6 continents. Together, we reach over 200,000 people on social media.

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

Within the next 12 months, Chalk Back will be executing frequent anti-harassment workshops in schools and workplaces using the power of our public art. I will be speaking at a UNESCO conference in Sweden to further develop international reach. In order to maintain momentum in the wake of the #MeToo movement, now is the time to engage men and women through education, story-telling, and discussion. We plan to teach middle school, high school and university students about the harsh impact of harassment.By the end of this year, I see Chalk Back having gained sufficient funding to employ a small team of full-time employees who can plan community events, speak at schools and workplaces, and maintain international, organizational operations.

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Legal Services

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations between $1k-$5k

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French) (6)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • Religious minority (non-Christian)

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • T-Mobile page or contact

Attachments (1)


This is an image from the Instagram account, @catcallsofnyc, that started the Chalk Back movement. Here in NYC, I collect instances of street harassment and write them on the sidewalks where they happen alongside the #stopstreetharassment to raise awareness. Then, I post the images to Instagram to solicit dialogue and story sharing.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ysa Moran

I love this project and am excited to see that you are already making a difference in your community!

Photo of Meagan

What a cool idea!!!

Photo of Tiffany Baltierra

“chalking back” that's so empowering! Way to drive change through your unique solutions