Some consensual touching at the 2010 Capital Pride Parade

This weekend, Miss D.C. 2009 Jen Corey graciously agreed to march alongside City Paper at the 2010 Capital Pride Parade. Along with her support of the LGBT community, Corey has beenoutspoken about D.C.’s groping problem as her reign draws to a close. The Miss D.C. organization is behind Corey’s new platform, and her recent efforts to physically defend herself against assault: “Jen recently got quite a bit of notoriety for her reaction to an overly familiar ‘admirer.’ In the fine tradition of [Miss America 1944] Venus Ramey . . . who defended herself against an intruder, Jen’s body slam or ‘Smack Down’ has become legendary.”

Corey, 22, will hand over her crown this Sunday at the Lincoln Theater. But before she finishes her reign, she’s agreed to answer some questions about public sexual harassment and assault:

In your NBC interview, you mentioned that you’ve experienced both physical and verbal sexual harassment. In my experience, a lot of people who agree that touching a stranger is wrong can’t understand what the big deal is about making sexual comments toward them. How have both types of harassment affected you personally?

Jen Corey: I have a lot of guy friends who agree and don’t understand what a little harmless catcalling has to do with sexual harassment. Sometimes I wish a hidden camera could follow me down a street because it’s not just the fact that someone calls out to you and maybe pays you a compliment. I used to live 1 block from campus in college and after walking to school for the first week down Massachusetts Ave, I drove for the rest of the year. I counted once and I was either catcalled or beeped at 11 times in one block. Living in a city alone is scary for a woman. It only increases your fear more when you are walking alone and a white van pulls up next to you and a car full of men are yelling derogatory things at you. A girl can only take so much before she is too afraid to go out alone.

I know that many, many women in D.C. experience this type of public sexual harassment and assault on a regular basis, but a lot of people are skeptical that this is actually that big of a problem. When you speak out about groping, are other people ever surprised that it’s this common an experience for you?

JC: I think men don’t always understand how often it happens. My own boyfriend really didn’t grasp it until recently one night when he walked me back to my car late at night after a photoshoot. I was walking with him and men were still coming up to us to try to talk to me or touch me. I’ve also heard other men say, “Oh that only happens because you’re probably dressed in a short dress” or it’s because I’m Miss DC. But this has happened to me since I was 13 and happens when I’m in sweatpants and a sweatshirt or when I’m in jeans and t-shirt.

Speaking of how frequent groping is: Can you talk a little bit about how this problem affects people all across the District?

JC: Not only does it affect people all over the District, but it affects people all over the country. The fact that we’re an active city where a most people are out and walking around, it just seems to happen more. My biggest point that I’m trying to get across is that we need to speak out against it. Do NOT just accept it as “a part of life.” It is not OK and the only way it will stop is if it is confronted. That’s why I’m so glad to have the support of the Washington City Paper, and Holla Back DC.