Meet Holly Kearl, Founder of the Non-Profit Organization Stop Street Harassment

Reston is an amazing place with amazing people. Each of our neighbors has a fascinating story to tell. Case and point, Reston resident Holly Kearl. I stumbled upon Holly’s instagram account and was drawn in by the pretty pictures of her and her dogs in and around town. But there was more to her feed than the usual snapshots. Here and there, peppered throughout, were pictures of Holly at marches and rallies. I sensed we had an activist living amongst us! From her profile, I learned that Holly is the founder of a non-profit organization aimed at stopping street harassment on a global level.

That was it, I had to meet her. And you should too.


Holly Kearl (third from left) at a UN march in New York City

Holly was gracious enough to chat with us about her nonprofit organization Stop Street Harassment. In addition to founding this organization, Holly has penned a national study and two books (plus a forthcoming third book) on street harassment. She has written more than 60 published articles for outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post and Guardian, given more than 135 talks, and over 200 media interviews. She also currently works for the Aspen Institute, the OpEd Project and UN Women.

Can you please explain to our readers what Stop Street Harassment is and why you were inspired to start this organization?

Stop Street Harassment (SSH) originally was a website that I created in 2008 after I wrote my master’s thesis on street harassment at George Washington University. That thesis was inspired in part by my own experiences. I have endured hundreds of street harassment incidents – ranging from verbal to physical – as have all of my female friends and family members.

In 2010, I wrote one of the only books on street harassment and founded International Anti-Street Harassment Week in 2011. SSH received 501c3 nonprofit status in 2012.

One of the most upsetting aspects about this issue to me is that teenage girls and college-age young women are harassed the most…usually by much older men. I hope that if people realized that they would be more outraged and ready to take action to try to prevent it.

Further, I view street harassment as a human rights violation because it causes harassed persons to limit our lives and our time in public spaces. I firmly believe it needs to end if we ever want to see gender equality (since street harassment disproportionately impacts women).

What sort of programs does SSH implement?

SSH is dedicated to documenting and ending gender-based street harassment worldwide. We do this through public education: online resources, research, and a Blog Correspondents Program. We also engage in community mobilization: we organize groups in 35+ countries to speak out against street harassment during International Anti-Street Harassment Week each spring and run a Safe Public Spaces Mentoring Program to assist community groups with projects they propose and undertake in their communities.

We also do a lot of work locally too. For example, if anyone has taken the Metro recently, they may have seen an anti-harassment sign on their train or in a station. SSH worked with Collective Action for Safe Spaces and WMATA to create those ads. We also advise WMATA on their larger anti-harassment efforts.


Can you tell us about SSH’s international work?

Street harassment is a global problem and so most of our work is done on a global scale. Our monthly blog correspondents currently are based in 9 countries. Last year our Safe Public Spaces Mentoring teams were in 6 countries. And we now have groups in nearly 40 countries taking action this week for International Anti-Street Harassment Week. They are holding marches, rallies and workshops, doing sidewalk chalking and distributing flyers, and organizing seminars and speak-outs.

SSH also gives help and advice to groups as needed internationally. For example, on Monday, a staffer in Australia’s parliament reached out to ask for a statement about street harassment from us. It will be read this week to supplement a statement being made by a member of parliament.

SSH also supports efforts happening globally, like the #FreetheBeijingFive. Five feminist activists were detained by the Chinese government more than a month ago for planning to distribute information about sexual harassment. SSH joined SlutWalk DC in organizing a protest at the Chinese Embassy in March. Thankfully, three of the five were finally released on Monday and hopefully the other two will be released soon. Tuesday of this week was a year since Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 girls from a school in Nigeria. Most of those girls are still captive. We have added our voice to those saying #BringBackOurGirls.

(Update: as of yesterday afternoon, all five Chinese activists were finally released from prison.)


Holly protesting at the Chinese embassy

How can one get involved and do you take donations?

People can share their street harassment stories on the blog; organize events, chalk walks or campaigns during International Anti-Street Harassment Week (here are events happening this week in the DC-area); apply to be part of the Blog Correspondents Program or propose a Safe Public Spaces Mentoring project; and invite SSH to speak at their event, school, campus or business. While we are largely run by volunteers, we could expand our programs – and undertake a website redesign this summer – with tax-deductible donations.

Above all else, we encourage people to just simply talk about the issue and share their stories to make this problem visible and one that we as a society can no longer ignore.

How long have you lived in Reston and is the SSH office located here?

I’ve lived in Reston since 2007. I moved a lot growing up so this is actually the longest I’ve lived in any city and I love it here! My life partner and I have been volunteers with Cornerstones since 2008 and enjoy attending the various festivals and farmer’s markets in town.

SSH is run virtually by volunteers who span the globe, but in a sense it is based in Reston since I live here. I am a runner and I have two dogs and I am SO grateful for the beautiful trails, parks, and lakes where I can go to get a break from my computer screen and enjoy nature. Compared to other places where I’ve lived, I am rarely harassed in Reston.

Thank you, Holly, for taking the time to chat with us. We applaud your efforts and hope this has inspired our fellow Restonians to get involved.

Photos courtesy of Holly Kearl.

This week is International Anti-Street Harassment Week, see how you can get involved.

Stop Street Harassment
P.O. Box 3621
Reston, VA 20195

(571) 449-7326

If you have a street harassment story tip, idea for ending street harassment, or are an activists who wants to have your work featured on the site, please contact [email protected].

The best way to reach Holly Kearl is by email for interview requests and speaking engagement invitations.

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