Skip to main content

1 in 5 girls have experienced street harassment during lockdown

30th April 2020

1 in 5 girls (19%) have experienced street harassment during lockdown reveals a new survey by global children’s charity Plan International UK.

As the UK comes to the end of its 6th week in lockdown, the poll of over 1,000 14-21-year-old girls also found that, despite the streets being emptier than ever, 1 in 5 (18%) girls who have experienced street harassment during this time say that it has got worse in the lockdown period.

One in ten (9%) girls have received unwanted attention including having insults shouted at them, and one in ten (9%) also said they have experienced unwanted sexual attention, unwanted sexual or physical contact, or indecent exposure in public. Yet one quarter of girls (26%) who had experienced harassment did not tell anyone about the incident. With the vast majority of the British public leaving the house only for essentials or exercise once-a-day, these shocking figures show that the fear and reality of harassment places even further restrictions on girls’ way of life. 

Overall, the poll found that over a quarter of girls (28%) feel less safe outside during the lockdown period, and of these girls:
Two in five (40%) feel unsafe walking alone in public

  • One third (31%) feel unsafe going to the shop alone
  • One quarter (25%) feel unsafe exercising outside alone
  • One third (33%) have stopped going outside at some point 

Plan International UK is calling on society to recognise that street harassment is not OK and should not be a part of lockdown life for girls. Every city, park, and public space must be safe for girls without fear of harassment or abuse. 

Atlanta, 18, from Manchester, says: 
‘I’m a key worker, and even during the pandemic male customers are looking at me and making inappropriate comments. One called me “baby” and told me my boyfriend must be a lucky man. 
‘I’ve also never really felt safe doing exercise outside, and during lockdown I’ve noticed that male gaze more. I was out running by a road recently and a van honked at me, then a cyclist cycled past and kept turning his head back to look at me. If anything had happened, the nearest place open was a supermarket, but it was still a long walk away. It makes me feel uncomfortable running on my own and I won’t be going down that road again.’

Josie, 22, from South Wales, says: 
‘I haven’t really been going out for walks because I’m isolating with someone who is in the high risk category. When I have though, it’s usually at night, as that’s when the fewest people seem to be out. Despite us being in a global pandemic, I still got a catcall last night. The worrying thing is that when walking out and about at night, there are fewer people around to help if anything potentially goes wrong.’ 

Of the girls who felt less safe outside during the lockdown period:

  • Over half (52%) said it was because there were fewer people around to help if something happened to them
  • Two in five (43%) felt there were fewer places to go if they needed to get away from someone
  • One third (31%) felt the police were busy with other priorities during the coronavirus crisis


Rose Caldwell, CEO of Plan International UK says:
“We know that girls are subject to harassment in all areas of life, yet these shocking statistics show that even a national lockdown is not enough to prevent perpetrators carrying out this abuse. Girls are still getting catcalled and harassed when they venture outside for their daily exercise, for essentials or even to work - so much so that some do not feel safe walking alone outside at all. And it’s making them feel ashamed, angry and frightened. 

“Girls’ voices must be heard so we can meet their needs in this lockdown and beyond, but many currently don’t feel able to tell anyone that they feel unsafe and unable to walk the streets they live in. We cannot allow the lockdown to turn back the clock on girls’ rights: we need to send a clear message that street harassment is not okay, make sure girls can access the support they need and work with bystanders, including men and boys, to ensure they feel able to call out street harassment.” 

Plan International UK encourage girls who want a digital space to discuss their concerns to join its Girls Shout Out community on Instagram or Facebook, moderated by Plan International UK and supported by The Body Shop, where girls can share, discuss and find support for the issues that matter to them during lockdown, including street harassment.

Contact Us

Plan International UK Press Office

Email: [email protected]

Tel: 0300 777 7374