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Parents worry about daughters experiencing street harassment from as young as 11

Parents worry about daughters experiencing street harassment from as young as 11

Girls' rights organisations call for change in law as majority of parents say clear legislation would make them more likely to report

An overwhelming number of parents (80%) in the UK worry their daughter will experience public sexual harassment during her lifetime, children’s charity Plan International UK and grassroots youth campaign Our Streets Now can reveal today. These concerns most commonly begin when their daughters are as young as 11 years old (38%), with a tenth worried at an even younger age. 

These new figures come alongside findings that street harassment has plagued young women and girls throughout the pandemic, with half (51%) experiencing it over summer, and one in five (19%) during the first national lockdown.  

This is adding to the multitude of fears parents are already grappling with in the current coronavirus crisis, and the poll of over 1,000, supported by the players of People’s Postcode Lottery, revealed their concerns are causing them to instruct their daughters to:  

  • Not walk home alone after a certain time 67% 
  • Not go to certain places 47% 
  • Not go out after dark 41% 
  • Not take certain routes home 40% 

Despite their worries, over a third of parents (37%) said they would not know where to report street harassment if it happened to their daughter, and 70% of parents whose daughters have experienced public sexual harassment didn’t report it to the police.  

Plan International UK and Our Streets Now are today joining forces to launch the #CrimeNotCompliment campaign, to call for a clear law that makes all forms of public sexual harassment illegal. They and the young people they support want the UK to follow in the footsteps of other countries who have successfully implemented legislation to tackle the pervasive issue of street harassment.  

An overwhelming 94% of girls think that street harassment should be illegal, and 72% said knowing it was a criminal offence would make them more likely to report it to the police. The majority of parents also back the call, with 86% saying they would be more likely to report harassment to the police if they knew it was a criminal offence. 

Teän, 14, from Cornwall, experienced street harassment while on her way to school, but didn’t think the police would take her seriously if she reported it. She says: 

‘I was walking by a road and a group of men shouted and made inappropriate sexual gestures to me out of the back of a bus. I was wearing my school uniform and was and visibly underage. A few minutes later another man drove past and shouted something out of the window. I didn’t report the incident to the police because I don’t really know how to, and even if I did, I wasn’t confident that they would take me seriously, or be able to do anything about it. 

‘Public sexual harassment needs to be made illegal. No-one deserves to feel unsafe walking home from school in their uniform - it’s disgusting. Having a clear law and ways of reporting will change so many women and girls’ lives and perhaps we’ll be able to walk down the street without feeling threatened, scared and objectified.’  

El, Teän’s mum, says: 

‘Hearing about what Tean - and so many other young girls - have been through, makes me feel really angry. I remember getting harassed when I was younger, to the point where I didn’t walk down alleyways, I changed my clothes to feel safe in certain situations, and I wouldn’t walk on my own after dark. To know that thirty years later my daughter is facing the same issues is awful. People think cat calling is not going to cause any harm, but it is incessant, and the build-up of that can cause long-term harm. 

‘Changing the law would give a clear message that street harassment is not OK, and provide an opportunity to educate both boys and young women about what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. We need to stand up and make a change, so that this doesn’t go on for another thirty years.’ 

The poll found that a third of parents (32%) have been told by their 14-21-year-old daughters’ that they have experienced street harassment. While girls told us that: 

  • 76% who have experienced harassment have never reported it to the police 
  • Over half of girls (53%) believe a clear law that makes it obvious that harassment is illegal would help prevent it  
  • Half (50%) also said that easier ways to report harassment like texting or online reporting would help prevent it 
  • Girls called on the police (73%), schools (73%) and the government (54%) to provide information on how to report harassment 

Rose Caldwell, CEO of Plan International UK says: 

‘Listening to the girls we work with, alongside the experiences of my two teenage daughters have made it all too clear to me, as the pandemic rages on, that public sexual harassment can no longer be ignored. This persistent and pervasive harassment of girls across the UK is completely unacceptable, but sadly not surprising. And this is something that affects not only girls, but their families, with parents worrying from a young age about the abuse their daughters face in public.  

‘What’s even more sobering is that many girls, and their parents, do not feel supported or able to report the harassment they are enduring due to a lack of information and clarity in the law. Today, we are proud to be standing with Our Streets Now and young people across the UK to demand a clear law that criminalises all forms of public sexual harassment and protects the rights of girls to a life lived without fear. Now more than ever, girls’ voices must be heard so we can meet their needs in this crisis and beyond.’ 

Gemma and Maya Tutton, founders of Our Streets Now said: 

‘We started this campaign because we want to create a society in which harassment is no longer a ‘normal’ part of being a girl. Public sexual harassment is a blight on the lives of women and girls in the UK and our research released today shows the urgency with which this problem must be tackled. The glaring holes in UK legislation are the best place to start.  

‘Today, we launch our solution to the problem: a specific, stand-alone criminal offence which would finally give women and girls proper, effective legal protection from sexual harassment in public.   

‘Across the world, countries have put specific legislation in place to address public sexual harassment in its entirety - the UK is lagging behind. Over 200,000 people have signed our petition calling on Parliament to recognise that this is a crime, not a compliment. Now is the time for take action. We deserve to feel and be safe in public space.’ 

Plan International UK and Our Streets Now are asking members of the public to join the campaign and show MPs that it’s time to make public sexual harassment a crime. Let’s make this the generation to end street harassment: To find out more, visit