SELINSGROVE — One of the nation’s leading activists against street harassment spoke to a group of more than 75 students and area residents at Susquehanna University on the need to raise awareness, and speak out against gender-based violence

The statistics are stark said Holly Kearl, founder of the non-profit organization Stop Street Harassment: “One in four American women are whistled at, harassed or even groped in public on our streets,” she said.

Kearl, a long-distance runner who said she was harassed beginning in college, said the experience scared and humiliated her.

“I felt dis-empowered. I didn’t stand up for myself.”

She has since dedicated her life to empowering women around the world, where harassment is even more common than in America.

“It’s a global phenomenon,” she said.

Once you understand what it is, Kearl added, you can fight back and reclaim your life.

Some women think it’s a complement — being whistled at — but it’s not, Kearl said.

“In fact, it’s humiliating. It’s about power. These men, they don’t even realize half the time what they’re doing. Or why.

“It’s important to know how to deal with harassment because this is an issue of equality,” she said.

“It impacts people’s lives in a very significant way.”

Being harassed can be traumatizing for women, and for those who have been raped, street harassment can  re-trigger feelings that might have been repressed.

So what can you do? Kearl asked the audience.

“Break the silence, tell your story,” she suggested.

“Practice and teach empowering responses. Call the police if you can, help others who see being harassed. Take a stand. And if you’re a student, raise awareness on your campus.”

Susquehanna University’s Women’s Studies Program and the PanHellenic Council sponsored Kearl’s talk.