The All-Too-Familiar Story Behind Nonprofit ‘Stop Street Harassment’

Holly Kearl, founder of Stop Street Harassment. Photo by Michelle Kunz.

Holly’s story can be found in our October issue as one of the 21 women changing the sport of running in 2017. 

All Women Deal With Street Harassment

I’m a female runner, and I have been harassed. Several times. It’s happened in broad daylight and at night, while I’ve been running and while I’ve walked along the street. I never “ask for it,” and even if I were wearing a sports bra without a top or a short skirt with heels, I still wouldn’t be asking for this to happen. Any woman who’s experienced sexual harassment (and this is to say almost all of us) will agree that we never leave our homes with the intention of incurring this kind of attention. When we’re moving through a public space at a walk or a run, that casual, everyday performance alone should not incite whistling, catcalls or honking from male passersby. And, you know what? It is mostly men who do these things, and it is mostly women who experience this. It’s uncomfortable. It’s frustrating. It steals some of our confidence and independence. It makes us feel vulnerable and preyed upon. But it happens so often that, nowadays, I barely look up when something like this happens. Giving these perpetrators a reaction is exactly what they want…but ignoring them is letting them get away with their poor behavior. Why is it that street harassment feels like it’s getting worse? In what universe is it okay for grown men to crow at teenaged girls? What can we do to make this problem go away?

Related: 8 Important Self-Defense Moves For Runners

There are women—and men—all over the world that are working to raise awareness for this issue. Some teach instructional courses at universities, others lead demonstrations with like-minded protesters and still others are working to implement changes at the legislative level. One woman who’s confronting street harassment from all three angles is Holly Kearl, the founder of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Stop Street Harassment. Holly stumbled upon the term “street harassment” in 2007 while in graduate school and wrote a thesis on the topic that reporters began citing in 2008. At the time, the topic was so under-researched that her graduate-level paper was one of the only concrete pieces of evidence that journalists could find. In the years since, Holly has become an advocate for street harassment awareness on an international level, working with countries all over the world to put on the Anti-Street Harassment Week every April and establishing programs on local and national levels—including a coordinated PSA campaign with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in Washington, D.C. and the National Street Harassment Hotline—to help those affected by street harassment.

Holly is one of 20 women we selected for our October issue’s “2017 Game Changers” cover story. For years, she’s worked to bring street harassment into the national conversation from her base in Washington, D.C. and plans to continue strengthening the programs she has in place in 2018. We recently spoke with Holly to discuss the nonprofit, her own experiences and the advice she has for women that face street harassment–that is, every woman everywhere.