Anna Aldridge Advocates for Safe Streets in Austin

In February, we explore the ways to express our admiration and love for others in healthy and compelling ways. Valentine’s themes pervade the media and our consciousness. How can we show the people in our life how we feel so they understand, so it matters, so that it most closely approximates our meaning?

 

But there are other kinds of expression, prevalent year-round, that are fueled by power and thoughtlessness, rather than care. One such kind of expression is cat-calling and street harassment, which Holly Kearl, Founder of Stop Street Harassment explains as “Gender-based street harassment is unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent and is directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”

 

One Austin resident, Anna Aldridge, is responding to street harassment, which can be aggressive and nebulous in intention, with assertive, clear objectives. As a runner, Ann often experienced harassment while on her runs and began a petition to put before Austin City Council called ‘Stop Sexual Street Harassment in Austin,’ which is nearing its 500 signature goal. Anna explains her objective, writing “I am an avid runner in Austin, Texas and no longer feel that I can safely leave my home, even in broad daylight because of the constant sexual street harassment I encounter. As an active member of the running community, I know that my experience is not isolated. I am asking for your support in making sexual street harassment a crime in Austin through legislation drafted by the Austin City Council.”
For many, running is a way to feel powerful. To feel pride in what the body is capable of, as well as experience other physical, emotional, and mental health benefits. Some revel in running, some heal from running. Cat-calling is something purported as a compliment that makes the recipient feel unsafe and objectified, that scrapes at a sense of self-worth.  There is nothing that stomps on the experience of running, squashing it like a bug, quite like cat-calling and street harassment. From feeling empowered, plummeting into vulnerability and fear.

 

 
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Photo Source: Larry D. Moore via Creative Commons

 

Runners are not the only population susceptible to street harassment. Anna speaks to this, writing: “Although the majority of harassment I tend to encounter is while running and there is a large community of runners in Austin, this is not an issue exclusive to athletes.  Many are harassed while walking down the street or just simply going about their daily tasks.  It’s not always women who are the victims, but also ethnic groups and members of the LGBT community.”

 

We are grateful for the dialogue Anna has opened and we hope it continues. We admire Anna and value her actions, and we voice this with respect. Holly Kearl’s quote in Anna’s petition lends the perfect summary:

 

“Of course, people are also harassed because of factors like their race, nationality, religion, disability, or class. Some people are harassed for multiple reasons within a single harassment incident. Harassment is about power and control and it is often a manifestation of societal discrimination like sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, classism, ableism and racism. No form of harassment is ever okay; everyone should be treated with respect, dignity, and empathy.”


Read Anna’s ‘Stop Sexual Street Harassment in Austin’ petition

Vanessa Wright