Street harassment: UK girls are saying 'It's not OK' – this is why
In recent months, vital conversations about harassment, including street harassment, and how it affects women’s lives have been unfolding.
It signals a significant shift in the public consciousness. But the particular experiences of girls have remained absent from many of these conversations – and as a result, the solutions being designed aren’t taking their voices into account.
In 2016, our report The State of Girls’ Rights highlighted the high levels of harassment girls in the UK are facing in all areas of their daily lives: in school, online and on the streets.
This year, to mark International Day of the Girl, we set out to find out how harassment in public places is affecting their lives, speaking to girls across the UK as well as academics and professionals developing solutions to tackle the problem - and produced this campaign film, to accompany our report:
Shockingly high levels of harassment
Our latest report, Street harassment: It’s not ok, reveals girls in the UK are facing shockingly high levels of harassment.
Two-thirds of the girls we surveyed – 66% – had experienced sexual attention or sexual or physical contact in a public place, while 38% had experienced verbal harassment at least once a month. 15% reported being touched, groped or grabbed every month.
These kinds of experiences were confirmed by the girls we spoke to, who told us about being catcalled from passing cars, grabbed in public and followed down streets.
The inaction of people who witnessed these incidents often made these feelings worse, sending a message that it was something girls just had to accept. And when adults were told what had happened, their reactions often made girls feel like they were being blamed.
As a result, many girls thought of these behaviours as part of everyday life – to the point that some said they felt it was just a normal part of growing up. As one girl told me: “we’re taught to expect sexual harassment, because everyone experiences it.”
And not only that. Many girls described changing their behaviour or lives in some way to avoid harassment, from changing the way they dressed and stopping going to certain places to taking a different, longer route to school.
Whoever you are, there’s action you can take
The girls we spoke to were clear that they want this behaviour to stop – and there is hope that what is considered by many to be a normal part of being a girl may change.
To make sure we built up a picture of what works for girls, we spoke to professionals – including the police – who talked about the various ways street harassment could be tackled, from the work being done in London to reduce unwanted sexual behaviour on public transport to the efforts in Nottingham to treat misogyny as a hate crime and projects supporting bars and clubs to make it safer for girls and women when they’re out at night.
Based on the findings from our report, our recommendations for change are aimed at everyone, from the public to youth services, the Government to the police, because everyone has a role to play in improving this situation for girls.
Nine ways we can all take a stand
1. Stand with girls to say ‘it’s not ok’
2. Bystanders – call it out!
Even the smallest action from people who witness harassment can be a tool for change, and we need to see training delivered to support this.
Education and youth services
3. Boys and men must be part of the change
The girls we met were clear that engaging boys and men was key to challenging street harassment, through changing attitudes and raising awareness of how this behaviour affects them.
4. Keep the commitment to improving Relationships and Sex Education
The UK Government and devolved nations have committed to improving Relationships and Sex Education (RSE). Now they need to translate that commitment into supporting young people to explore issues including respect, consent and gender-based violence.
Policy and Government
5. Recognise street harassment as gender-based violence
Government at all levels must recognise that street harassment is a form of gender-based violence and take action to tackle it – across areas including public transport and town planning.
6. Build a picture of what’s happening
National data must be collected to build a proper picture of how street harassment is affecting girls, to truly understand the scale and nature of the problem.
7. Listen to girls
Girls are the experts in their own experiences and must be involved in national and local plans to develop policies and solutions to tackle street harassment.
Police and local services
8. Make your space a safe space
Training and guidance should be developed for adults who have a responsibility for public places, so they can take an active role in preventing harassment and supporting girls when it happens.
9. Girls needs a right to report and support
Police, businesses and the community must make it clear what behaviours are unacceptable or a matter for the police, and ensure girls know how to report incidents if they happen.
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