One sunny, spring afternoon, I ran through a neighborhood near my college. Lost in my thoughts, I was startled to hear, “I like how your tits bounce when you run,” from a white guy in his 20s who was standing on a driveway with his friends. My initial shock at hearing such vulgar language was quickly followed by strong feelings of horror, humiliation, and anger. I slowed my pace and turned around to glare at them. They continued laughing. I resumed my run, blushing with fury and mortification. The words and laughter echoing in my mind ruined the rest of my day.
This story describes only one of the hundreds of times when men I do not know have harassed me in public. Street harassment has ranged from creepy leers to sexually explicit comments, from being followed and chased to being sexually grabbed. Street harassment has made me change my routine, my habits, and even impacted where I chose to live as an adult.
One of our most basic rights should be the right to walk down the street safely, without facing harassment, yet that is a right that many of us are routinely denied all over the world, from big city streets to rural roads, from public shopping centers to refugee camps.
Limited research shows that at least 80 percent of women worldwide have experienced gender-based street harassment, including unwanted leering, “catcalls,” sexually explicit comments, demands for a smile, groping, stalking, public masturbation, and assault. It impacts men too, especially in the LGBQT community. And it starts young. One online study of 811 women located in 23 countries found that nearly one in four of them had been harassed in public by age 12 and nearly 90 percent had been harassed by age 19.
Sexual harassment is illegal in the workplace and schools, yet in the streets and on public transportation, in stores and in parks, it’s seen as normal and the “way things are.” This must change. No country has achieved gender equality and no country ever will until street harassment ends.
I strongly believe without sound data showing the prevalence of street harassment, its impact, and why it occurs, most policy makers, educators, law enforcement and the general public will continue to refuse to take this issue seriously.
If you agree and if you’re tired of street harassment, please donate $10 (or more) to help make a street harassment study possible.
I plan to conduct the first-ever nationally representative survey of 2,000 women and men ages 18-30 in the USA. I have an advisory team of PhD-level sociologists, demographers, and anti-street harassment activists who will provide feedback on the survey instrument. The acclaimed surveying firm GfK Custom Research LLC has agreed to conduct the nationally representative survey.
Once the survey is complete, I will release a short report with the study findings and recommendations. The report will also include information from discussion groups I am facilitating this fall with under-represented groups, including Native American young adults, sex workers, and transgender individuals. I started these already and flew to South Dakota last week to conduct two focus groups with Native Americans.
I will use the data and report to create curriculum for schools and colleges, launch targeted awareness-raising campaigns, and work with policy makers to improve the laws that can protect people from street harassment.
Thank you for your help! Let’s work together to make sure the next generation has safe access to public spaces.
-Holly Kearl, Founder of Stop Street Harassment