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Two thirds of girls have been sexually harassed in public, new survey finds

Two thirds of girls have been sexually harassed in public, new survey finds

A new survey by girls’ rights charity Plan International UK has found that a shocking 66 per cent of girls in the UK have experienced unwanted sexual attention or unwanted sexual or physical contact in a public place.

The survey of 1,004 girls aged 14-21 found that 38 per cent of girls are experiencing verbal harassment like catcalling, wolf whistling and sexual comments at least once a month, while 15 per cent are being touched, groped or grabbed every month. Nearly 1 in 10 (9 per cent) girls reported experiencing upskirting – where someone took a photograph up their skirt without their permission.

Despite this happening in public places – like parks, high streets and bus stops - people are not stepping in to help. Only a fifth (20 per cent) of girls who had experienced street harassment said someone had responded in a way they found helpful. Useful responses included asking if they were OK, speaking to the person doing the harassing or helping them to report it to a professional.

This regular street harassment means girls are being forced to take steps to avoid being targeted:

  • 43 per cent pretend to be on the phone
  • 28 per cent don’t go out at night
  • 22 per cent walk a longer route to avoid somewhere
  • 17 per cent dress differently or change what they wear
  • 14 per cent wouldn’t sit at the top of a bus, or in an empty train or tube carriage

Malikah, 19, from Birmingham experiences street harassment frequently in her area. She said: “It can be scary, especially if it's at night and someone approaches you quite a few times.

“One time someone asked me to get in a car and I was just like, “No!” I walked away and they were driving alongside on the road at the same speed as me like they were following me.

“Then they turned down the side of the road and I thought they'd gone, but they actually went down there to park their car. They came and walked up to me, and I was really scared because I was by myself at the time.

“My phone was upside-down, but I pretended to be on the phone and was trying to make out like my dad was coming to pick me up. From him hearing that, he just turned around, put his hood up and moved away.

“Now my parents are more cautious about when I’ll be home and going out after dark, which affects my plans and my work if they can’t always pick me up.”

Plan International UK is calling on the Government, local councils and police forces, to acknowledge street harassment as a form of violence against women and girls. Next month, the charity will publish a new report highlighting the experiences of girls across the UK, and specific actions policymakers can take to tackle the issue.

Tanya Barron, Chief Executive of Plan International UK, said, “We already know that women sadly experience street harassment all too often, but this survey brings to light the shocking fact that it’s regularly happening to girls as young as 14, too.

“They are being harassed while they’re out with their friends, travelling on public transport and just trying to get on with their everyday lives. Girls have a right to move around independently and be in public places without fear.

“They are telling us that they refuse to accept harassment as a normal part of growing up. They want to see change, and we all have a responsibility to help make that happen.”

To find out more about Plan International UK’s ‘It’s not okay’ campaign launching next month which aims to tackle street harassment visit www.plan-uk.org/streetharassment.