February 13 2018
Colleen Kelly Alexander discusses the accident that changed her life and how she has rebounded in spite of the trauma to her mind and body.
The first time I remember being harassed was when I was running. I have been a runner for most of my life. I did my first 5K when I was 8 years old, with my dad and my sister. The summer between middle school and high school, I ran a full marathon. I never was harassed with my team or when I ran with my dad when I was younger, but by the time I started training for the marathon, I was mostly running alone. That’s when I started facing harassment from men, mostly the whistling and honking from their cars. It wasn’t until later in high school that I started to have experiences beyond when I was running, like walking to school or while I was out with friends.
It was during college that I had the worst experiences of my life. Just about every time I left campus, men were harassing me. I went to college at Santa Clara University, and our campus was right next to El Camino Real, this very busy road. Men were constantly yelling stuff, honking, whistling. The first time I was followed was when I was 14. I was training in a park when I was 22 and I was grabbed by a man on the street; he grabbed my crotch. I’ve had a range of experiences, but many have happened while running.
At 14, there’s almost this feeling among girls that it’s bragging if you say anything, like, “Oh, this guy thinks I’m hot.” It feels like it’s creepy, but it’s a lot harder to articulate at that age, and there’s a lot of shame and judging among young girls. So much of the harassment at that age comes from adult men, too, which adds to that complication because you’re like, “Am I supposed to respect this guy? What’s supposed to be happening? What’s going on?”
I started it as a website and a blog. That came about because I did a master’s thesis while at school at George Washington University on street harassment. When I was researching topics for my thesis, I came across the term “street harassment.” I didn’t have the language to talk about all these experiences I’d had, and I found it ironic, because one of my undergraduate degrees was in women and gender studies. I was an advocate against rape on campus, I’d been volunteering in domestic violence shelters, but this very related issue was not talked about. I came across this website called The Street Harassment Project. I saw this term, and they had all these stories that were like mine. I ended up writing my thesis talking about how women were using websites in lieu of social recognition of the problem, and how they were sharing tips and advice and trying to offer support to each other.
There was this little survey for my thesis that I put online, and reporters started finding it. At that time, there was so little information about street harassment. The biggest interview I did was with CNN in 2008. I revisited the issue because I started getting all these other media interview requests. People were emailing me, sharing their stories. I looked back at the websites I had studied: there was one in the UK that I thought was great but was completely gone. The Street Harassment Project had not been updated. Hollaback! was around, but they had like six chapters, that was it. That’s what prompted me to start Stop Street Harassment: to be a resource in place of the resources I had appreciated which were gone or inactive. The goal at that time was to have a place for anyone in the world to share their stories and find resources and advice.
Related: 14 Safety Reminders For Runners