Students start anti-sexual harassment group Respond New Orleans

Emma Discher, Editor-in-Chief

When rising sophomore Maddy Schmidt hopped on the streetcar one day, she did not expect to have an experience that would kick-start a sexual harassment awareness movement, Respond New Orleans.

Schmidt was headed home from shopping with her arms full of bags and asked the driver for help with her ticket around 7 p.m. April 8 at the St. Charles Avenue and Common Street streetcar stop.

“As I asked the driver for help with inserting my ticket, he took it upon himself to take advantage of my situation and lift up the edge of my dress, exposing me to an entire streetcar full of people,” Schmidt said in a post on the Respond New Orleans Facebook group. “I was shocked by this and even more shocked by the fact that every passenger laughed at my misfortune. Not one person on that streetcar did anything but laugh.” 

She immediately texted Josh Spencer, her boyfriend at the time, about the incident. He encouraged her to do something about it and reported the incident to the Regional Transit Authority. A RTA employee told them that since the cameras were not recording at the time of the incident, the investigation would be dropped.

The two decided to create Respond New Orleans, a page to share stories of sexual harassment and assault, offer resources and post articles. Respond New Orleans is currently a Facebook page but a bigger website is in progress.

“It’s been really moving for me actually that people have been so willing to come forward and share something that they experienced,” Schmidt said. “My goal is educating more people and hopefully bringing an end to problems like this.”

Schmidt said that starting the page made her feel that she was turning a negative into a positive.

“I’m just glad that what was an individually negative experience now made this collectively positive impact and people are coming forward and joining this community,” Schmidt said.

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