The History of DC’s Anti-Street Harassment Movement

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Check out our guest post on AAUW Dialogue blog on the history of the DC anti-street harassment movement:

While street harassment is a big issue these days, women have been fighting sexual harassment in Washington, D.C., public spaces for more than 80 years. As we celebrate and acknowledge Women’s History Month, we want to pay homage to the D.C. women who taught us what we know about street harassment and inspired us to organize and create a campaign to end public sexual harassment and assault in our nation’s capital.

Before there was even a name for catcalling or pubic sexual harassment, Alice Reighly established the Anti-Flirt Club in 1923. Composed of young women and girls who had been embarrassed by men in automobiles and on street corners, the club launched an “Anti-Flirt Week” in March 1923 to discourage the behavior.

Zip forward to the 1980s, when D.C. activist Linda Leeks produced anti-street harassment posters and fliers. Also about that time, Marty Langelan, one of our inspirations for starting Holla Back DC!, began doing more work on street harassment. Between 1985 and 1986, Marty and other D.C. women organized the Hassle Free Zone Campaign with the goal of making D.C. free of harassment. The group put a name to the problem and held numerous speak outs, educated perpetrators and police about the issue, and taught women how to verbally confront street harassment. Marty published Back Off: How to Confront and Stop Sexual Harassment and Harassers, one of the premier books on street harassment, in 1993. The book defines street harassment and covers everything from why perpetrators harass, how to confront harassers, and community solutions to end street harassment.

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