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Department ofHistory


Holly Kearl

Holly Kearl

Holly Kearl '05

I received a degree in History from SCU in 2005, and for the last 13 years, I have worked for various non-profit organizations in Washington, D.C. I’m also an activist on sexual harassment issues, and I have written books, reports and more than 85 op-eds on the topic for outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post, TIME, and Huffington Post. All the research papers I wrote in college helped prepare me for a career where I do a lot of writing, and they helped train me to know how to find and provide sound evidence for my argument or thesis.

Compared with other activists and advocates in my field, I think my background in history causes me to regularly research what has been done already before I take on any new projects, be that a research report or a campaign. I want to know what’s been tried before, what’s worked or what hasn’t and then build from there instead of starting from scratch.

My specific topic specialty is street harassment, or sexual harassment in public spaces, and I do a lot of media interviews. Thanks to my historical research on the topic, whenever reporters ask me if this is a new problem, I can say no – there is documentation of street harassment hundreds of years ago in women’s journals and nearly 150 years ago in newspapers. Activism to stop it isn’t new either, just the terminology and social mores have changed. For instance, in Washington, D.C. there was an “Anti-Flirt Club” nearly 100 years ago that aimed to stop men from making inappropriate comments to women on the streets. When you read about their work, the behaviors they describe wanting to stop are the behaviors that still happen today.

I think a lot about street harassment in an historical context and ponder what can we do differently today from what was done 100 years ago to hopefully ensure that in another 100 years, people aren’t still trying to stop men from sexually harassing women on the streets!

Holly Kearl speaking in Istanbul at a UN conference