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Two-thirds of girls have changed their behaviour to avoid public sexual harassment

Two-thirds of girls have changed their behaviour to avoid public sexual harassment

Millions of girls are still being forced to change the way they live their lives because of public sexual harassment, according to shocking new survey findings from Plan International UK.

It comes as the Government has said it will look into the gaps in legislation on Public Sexual Harassment and will consider how they can be addressed, as part of its new Violence Against Women and Girls strategy.

Plan International UK’s survey data found that girls are not going out at night, are dressing differently, avoiding doing exercise and going to school for fear of being harassed.

Two thirds (67%) of girls aged 14-21, equivalent to nearly two million, are taking steps to avoid harassment, including:

  • Pretending to be on the phone (35%)
  • Walking with keys in their hands (26%)
  • Not going out at certain times or at night (24%)
  • Not going to certain places (21%)
  • Telling someone they have a boyfriend or girlfriend, or giving out a fake number (18%)
  • Avoiding using public transport at night (17%)
  • Dressing differently or changing what they wear (16%)

The research, carried out by Opinium and supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, also found that over half of girls (55%) who have already experienced public sexual harassment say that it has subsequently caused them to avoid doing something, including:

  • Exercise (24%)
  • Going out with friends (22%)
  • Going to school (11%)

Plan International UK and Our Streets Now are calling for a new law to make all forms of Public Sexual Harassment a criminal offence, as part of their #CrimeNotCompliment campaign.

Rose Caldwell, CEO of Plan International UK, says:

"We are encouraged by the Government’s recognition of gaps in legislation regarding Public Sexual Harassment, and their commitment to reviewing these as part of their new Violence Against Women and Girls strategy. However, without a new, comprehensive law on Public Sexual Harassment, millions of girls will be left unprotected. We urge the Government to quickly deliver its promise to review the legal gaps - and then commit to a new Public Sexual Harassment Law as a matter of urgency.

"Girls as young as ten are being harassed, followed and touched. It is extraordinary that if a girl is going to school on the train and a man leans against her; presses his body against her, invades her space and whispers obscene comments in her ear, she is not protected by existing laws.  

"That's why we need a new, comprehensive Public Sexual Harassment Law to make this behaviour a crime and send a clear message that it is not tolerated in our society. No girl should walk home in fear for her safety."

The research also found that more than a third (34%) of girls aged 14-21 in the UK say that experiencing sexual harassment has negatively affected their mental health and wellbeing. While for 22%, it has caused them to avoid taking their usual route to school, university or work.

Eva, 19, from Liverpool, said:

"I’m currently training for a marathon which means that I experience public sexual harassment on an almost daily basis while running, like being shouted at and honked at by cars. When I was much younger I didn’t exercise at all in public after a man in a van shouted about my breasts while I was running - I was 11 years old. This meant that I was severely restricted during my teenage years and both my mental and physical health suffered.

"I’m always conscious of what I’m wearing in public and what comments it might elicit from men. I avoid certain ways home at night, even if it takes longer or makes me late, and I always mentally plan a way to get out of a given space if something happens, like sitting near the door of a train. The constant harassment massively upsets and distracts me. A lot of men seem to feel they are just naturally entitled to touch your body. It’s not ok and it needs to stop."

Plan International UK and Our Streets Now have worked with leading human rights lawyers to create a parliament-ready bill that will make public sexual harassment a crime.

Maya and Gemma Tutton, founders of grassroots organisation Our Streets Now, say:

"We welcome the Government commitment to looking at gaps in the legislative framework and how our specific offence could address them. The recent public outcry over harassment in public spaces signals the urgent need for the Government to make crystal clear that this behaviour will no longer be tolerated in our society.

"Over half a million people have backed our campaign calling for an end to public sexual harassment. Their voices must be heard. We hope the strategy will swiftly be followed by a commitment to changing the law and making streets safer for women, girls and people marginalised genders."

Plan International UK and Our Streets Now are calling for the UK Government to make public sexual harassment a criminal offence through their #CrimeNotCompliment campaign. To find out more and add your name to the campaign visit