Why I’m campaigning to make public sexual harassment a crime
Gemma from Our Streets Now shares her experience of public sexual harassment and the #CrimeNotCompliment campaign
My name is Gemma Tutton and I am a 16 year old schoolgirl. I am also the co-founder of Our Streets Now, a grassroots youth campaign against public sexual harassment. Today, we are launching the #CrimeNotCompliment campaign in official partnership with Plan International UK. We are calling for a clear law that makes all forms of public sexual harassment illegal.
First, let me share my experiences of harassment in public places, before telling you a bit about that of girls and young women across the country. The first time I was harassed was in the summer of my year six, when I was still in primary school.
I was then, and am now, a child. I was walking down my local high street in broad daylight. A car slowed down beside me, and a man leaned out to make crude, sexual remarks about my body that I didn’t even understand. I don’t remember many things about being 11 years old, but this incident has stayed with me.
My experience is as depressing as it is commonplace. According to statistics by Plan International UK, two thirds of schoolgirls have experienced unwanted sexual attention in public. For over one in three girls (38%), this harassment happens on a monthly basis. During this past summer alone, over half of girls and young women (51%) experienced public sexual harassment.
The impact of this on girls’ mental health is huge. For me, public sexual harassment makes me feel bad about my body. It makes me feel ashamed, even if all I’m doing is walking down a street minding my own business on my way to school or the athletics track.
On top of this, public sexual harassment makes me feel afraid. It weighs on me every day. My heart tightens and beats faster when cars slow near me and I have to cross the road when walking past groups of men.
My parents worry too. Plan International and Our Streets Now have found that 80% of parents worry about their daughters experiencing street harassment, with over a third (38%) starting to worry when their daughters are as young as 11.
The fear felt by girls, young women and parents alike leads to changes in behaviour, with 41% of parents not letting their daughters go outside after dark. The anxiety which harassment causes certainly makes me adapt my everyday behaviours, from taking different routes home to changing clothes before walking home from my athletics training.
It’s important to highlight that although public sexual harassment is experienced by most girls, it is not experienced in the same way. It is an issue that disproportionately affects people of colour, members of the LGBTQ+ community and disabled women.
Alongside 33% of LGBTQ, I have felt extremely uncomfortable and anxious when holding my girlfriend’s hand, with older men staring and leering at us. It made it hard for me to feel happy and confident with my newfound pride, scared that someone could do the same to me as the lesbian couple on the bus who were attacked in London last year.
This needs to stop. We need to feel safe and be safe in public space. How are we supposed to flourish if we feel scared every time we step outside? In order to make this a reality, we need your support for the #CrimeNotCompliment campaign. 94% of girls want public sexual harassment to be illegal, will you join them?
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