4 in 10 young women in London sexually harassed over last year

25 May 2012



Call for awareness campaign, training and ‘bystander intervention’


A YouGov survey for the End Violence Against Women Coalition (1) published today (25 May) reveals that a staggering 43% of young women in London (aged 18-34) experienced sexual harassment in public spaces over the last year (2).


The survey asked women Londoners about their experience of unwanted contact or attention (eg wolfwhistling, sexual comments, staring, exposure) of a sexual nature in public spaces over the last year and found that:

  • 41% of women aged 18-34 have experienced unwanted sexual attention
  • 21% of all women have experienced unwanted sexual attention
  • 4% of all women have experienced unwanted sexual touching


The survey also asked women Londoners the same questions about their experience when on public transport in London and again found alarmingly high levels of sexual harassment:

  • 31% of women aged 18-24 have experienced unwanted sexual attention
  • 24% of women aged 25-34 have experienced unwanted sexual attention
  • 14% of all women have experienced unwanted sexual attention
  • 5% of all women have experienced unwanted sexual touching


EVAW Coalition Co-Chair Professor Liz Kelly said:


“Our survey shows that sexual harassment in London is extremely common. Some survey respondents also said that this behaviour makes them feel uncomfortable and unsafe and makes them change their behaviour and decisions about when and where to travel.


“Despite this high prevalence and impact however, public sexual harassment is a form of abuse which generally goes unchallenged, creating an unsafe and unequal environment for women.


“We need investment in public campaigns on transport and elsewhere saying this behaviour is unacceptable, and training for transport staff about how to respond to it.”


Some of the comments made by survey respondents were:


“I feel safer on public transport than I do walking around, but I have still experienced several nasty incidents of sexual harassment on the tube where I have been forced to change carriage or leave the train a stop early to avoid harassment from men.”


“Feel unsafe at night if I am alone and travelling home. I often move carriages on the tube to feel safer or change buses.”


“Have had some issues when travelling on the top deck of a bus, especially at night, so don't feel safe up there. Safer to sit nearer the driver.”


There is a lack of research on the prevalence and impact of sexual harassment of women in public in the UK. Some international studies appear to show that as many as 80% of women have experienced sexual harassment (3). Although often dismissed as trivial or as something women and girls should just ignore, some research shows that the regular experience of sexual harassment increases women’s fear of crime, makes women feel that their choices are limited, and even feeds into how women feel about their bodies and their sexuality (4).


The EVAW Coalition has written to Transport for London with the survey findings and setting out its recommendations which are that there should be a public awareness campaign indicating that sexual harassment can be a crime and is not acceptable (5).


EVAW is also calling for training for police and transport staff in dealing with sexual harassment when it is reported. It is hoped that a combination of measures such as these will contribute to a longer term culture change where this behaviour becomes less socially acceptable and where bystanders for example are more likely to intervene when it occurs (some survey respondents reported incidents of sexual harassment and assault where onlookers did nothing).


Over the last few years groups campaigning to stop street harassment have sprung up in many North American cities and now also around the UK. Some of these have successfully lobbied for measures such as publicity campaigns and websites and phone lines for easy reporting of incidents, as well as transport staff training.


Bryony Beynon, co-Director, Hollaback London, said:


“These statistics are just the tip of the iceberg. From unwanted sleazy comments to violent sexual assault, street harassment is an epidemic in London. Our website gets thousands of hits a month from women looking for support, reassurance and a chance to speak out about their often horrifying daily experiences. Whether thirteen or seventy years old, time and time again they ask ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ Wider social change through community education as well as more robust enforcement of the laws designed to protect women in public is desperately needed. Until then, men who harass need to wake up to the damage this behaviour is having on a daily basis.”


Vicky Simister, Founding Director of the UK Anti Street Harassment Campaign, said:


“In order to address this, local councils and the police need to convey a strong message that this behaviour will not be tolerated by perpetrators. A good example was the 'Flirt/ Harass: Real Men Know the Difference' poster campaign by Lambeth council in partnership with the Metropolitan Police, which conveyed an no-tolerance message. More councils need to adopt approaches like this.


“It is important to note that this is not a London-only problem, and a national survey needs to happen to understand the extent of the problem. We hope that London can lead the way in addressing this issue - particularly in light of the impending Olympics and international perceptions of our nations attitude to women's safety.”


Publication of these new survey results follows the publication during the London Mayoral election campaign of other findings from the same YouGov poll that almost twice as many women in London as men say they do not feel safe using London public transport at all times of day and night (28% of women as to 15% of men).


Of women in the survey who chose to comment further on their feelings about safety when travelling in London, the highest number said they wanted to see action on transport staffing – including wanting more staff, better training for staff, and staff to be more visible.(. After staffing, the next most commonly expressed desires were for more visible policing on the transport system, and better lighting on buses and trains, at stops and stations and beyond.


An alarming number of women said that they did not feel safe when travelling at night with some avoiding doing so because of safety fears. When asked for comments, some women reported that they had personal experience of, or a friend or family member had experience of, sexual harassment or sexual assault when travelling in London.


The EVAW Coalition commissioned the YouGov survey in order to highlight the every day impact of women’s safety fears on women’s choices about travelling in London. These fears are strongly related to the threat and the reality of violence in the lives of thousands of women and girls in London – last year 45,000 incidents of domestic violence and 3,000 rapes were reported to the police in London, and 7,000 children were born to women who had undergone female genital mutilation (6).




Notes to editors:


  1. 1.     The End Violence Against Women Coalition is the UK’s largest coalition of organisations working to eradicate violence against women and girls; members include Eaves, Fawcett Society, Forward, Imkaan, Jewish Women’s Aid, Newham Asian Women’s Project, Rape Crisis England and Wales, Standing Together, Women in Prison, WRC, The Women’s Institute, Amnesty International UK and the TUC.
  2. 2.     All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1047 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 9th - 12th March 2012.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all London adults (aged 18+). 523 London women undertook the YouGov survey.
  3. 3.     Two Canadian studies (Lenton et al 1999 and Macmillian, Nierobisz and Welsh 2000) found that around 80% of women surveyed had recent experience of sexual harassment.
  4. 4.     Research from North America indicates that the repeated experience of sexual harassment by male strangers makes women limit their own choices regarding for examples dress and decisions about travel; it also increases women’s fear of violent crime, for themselves and women and girls that they know, and encourages them to restrict their own and loved ones’ movement in public spaces.
  5. 5.     Letter from the EVAW Coalition to TFL is available on request.
  6. 6.     Figures from Metropolitan Police and Imkaan.
  7. 7.     A 2010 poll of 788 16-18-year-olds around the UK conducted by YouGov for the EVAW Coalition found that almost a third (29%) of 16-18-year-old girls say they have been subjected to unwanted sexual touching at school. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of all 16-18-year-olds (ie boys and girls) say they hear sexual name-calling with terms such as “slut” or “slag” used towards girls at schools on a daily basis or a few times a week.
  8. 8.     More results from the YouGov survey: Breakdown of Q4 answers:


Of the 523 women who undertook the YouGov survey 262 submitted answers to an open type question asking, ‘Are there any comments about safety or harassment when travelling around London that you would like to make?’


According to the analysis of these results conducted by the EVAW Coalition, the results include :


-       40: Transport staffing – referring to bus, tube, train, station staff & drivers; includes want to see more staff, want staff training (on protecting passengers etc), want staff to be more visible

-       34: Not safe at night – including reluctant to travel at night, do not feel safe at night, do not travel at night b/c of safety concerns, do not travel alone at night

-       22: More police – including transport police, more police visibility on transport system, more police generally

-       20: Sexual harassment- includes have experienced it, and fear of it affects my travel

-       6: Sexual assault – includes have experienced it when travelling in London, or friend/family has

-       12: Lighting is a safety concern – including on transport system & in street

-       11: Alcohol consumption on transport system is still a problem

-       9: CCTV – want more of it, and for it to be in a working condition

-       9: Fear of other crime including theft

-       8: Women should take action to protect themselves – view expressed by some respondents

-       4: Action should be taken to increase women’s safety – view of some respondents

-       3: Streets are more unsafe than transport system

-       3: Lack of bystander intervention is a problem

-       2: Stations are unsafe

-       19: I feel safe when travelling in London

-       60 made general comments not referring to fear of crime or harassment, but concerning for example anti-social behaviour (4), overcrowding (4), young people (15), other transport problems including getting pushchairs onto buses/rudeness/particular bus routes etc (37).





< Back