85% of younger women in UK have been sexually harassed in public
8 March 2016
Vast majority of women aged under 25 have been sexually harassed and two thirds of all women – making it most common form of abuse
Most want others to intervene but this rarely happens
Accompanying film features young Black and minority ethnic women talking about the harassment they experience every day
A national coalition of women’s organisations today (8 March, International Women’s Day) publishes a new YouGov survey of British women’s experience of sexual harassment in public places, which reveals that 85% of women aged 18-24 have experienced unwanted sexual attention in public places and 45% have experienced unwanted sexual touching (which can amount to sexual assault) (1).
The YouGov survey commissioned by the End Violence Against Women Coalition found that 64% of women of all ages across the UK have experienced sexual harassment in public places, and 35% of all women have experienced unwanted sexual touching (2).
Did anyone intervene? - Only 11% of women reported that someone else intervened when they experienced unwanted sexual touching in a public place, while 81% said they would have liked someone to do so.
Age of first experience - The survey also reveals that of women who have received unwanted sexual attention and unwanted sexual touching, more than a quarter were aged under 16 the first time it happened, and more than three quarters, a large majority, were under 21 when it first happened.
The survey is published alongside the release of a powerful new short film by Imkaan (3) and the EVAW Coalition, which features young black and minority ethnic women in the UK talking about their experience of sexual harassment and how it is often combined with racism. The women speak powerfully about the barrage of racism they’ve been subjected to when they object to harassment.
Do you feel safe? Do you take evasive action? - The survey also found that significantly more women than men say they feel unsafe in public places (63% versus 45%), and almost half are doing conscious “safety planning” if they go out in the evenings, such as avoiding public transport and paying for taxis (42%), leaving early (47%) and taking a different route (42%). It is published as London elections, local elections and PCC elections loom (5 May).
Women in the film stalk about sexual harassment making them feel “vulnerable” and “suffocated”. One woman says, “I never make eye contact with men when I’m walking anywhere.” The women also reject the idea that sexual harassment is trivial:
“It’s a common misconception that those minor incidents are minor – they’re not – in the minds of those who experience them.”
In discussing what it feels like to experience racist sexual harassment one woman in the film says:
“My experiences are different as a Black woman than they are for my white friends. I should be ‘up for it’ or I am ‘fair game’, or I shouldn’t care if my body is touched in a specific way.”
And another woman says:
“After me ignoring them, that’s when it turns racial, so that’s when it might be ‘you black this’ or ‘you black that…how dare you ignore me’.”
Lia Latchford, Policy and Campaigns Coordinator at Imkaan said:
“Our film tells a powerful story of young black women’s everyday experience of racialised sexual harassment. For us, we cannot 'leave race out of it' because the way we are treated is based on how our whole identities are perceived as black women. This harassment and abuse often uses racist stereotypes and insults as an attempt to put black women in our place. Everyone, adults and young people alike, need to talk about it and it needs to stop.”
Sarah Green, Acting Director at the End Violence Against Women Coalition said:
“Sexual harassment is an everyday experience which women and girls learn to deal with, but it's time to hold a mirror up to it and challenge it.
“We did this survey to find out about the scale of sexual harassment and the impact it has on the way women live. If women are planning their lives around not being harassed or assaulted, they are not free. Women should be free to live their lives without the threat of harassment and violence, not having to plan and limit their choices to make sure they’re safe.”
What should be done? In the survey women were asked what they thought should be done about sexual harassment in public places. Many said they supported more police (53%), better street lighting (38%), more transport staff (38%) and public awareness campaigns encouraging others to intervene (35%). No women we asked believed this problem should be ignored and no measures taken.
The survey is published weeks before London and other cities elect new Mayors, and England and Wales elect new Police and Crime Commissioners on 5 May, and as the Government in Westminster ‘refreshes’ its Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy.
Sarah Green added:
“Girls and young women are growing up in the UK today being exposed to unwanted sexual attention, harassment and assault. They are learning to change their behaviour so they can manage these incidents because they are so regular. We need to really question any idea that this behavior is trivial or in any way acceptable given what we can see about its impact.”
The survey and short film come as the EVAW Coalition and Imkaan prepare to launch a manifesto later this month on ending all forms of violence against women and girls for the London Mayoral elections, and to write to Police and Crime Commissioner candidates. EVAW and Imkaan will draw all these elections candidates’ attention to the high rates of harassment and ask them to prioritise ending violence against women and girls.
The film is based on recent interviews with young Black and minority ethnic women in the UK, and is the first release of material from a longer term project which will probe and foreground Black and minority ethnic women’s experience of sexual harassment in public places. The film will be available to view on YouTube from Tuesday 8 March.
Notes to editors:
- All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,650 adults in Britain, of which 889 were female and 106 were female aged 18-24. Total sample size was 1,039 in London. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26th February - 1st March 2016. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB and London adults (aged 18+).
- Respondents to the survey were asked whether in public places (“ie the street, public transport, parks, shops etc”) they had experienced, “unwanted attention (non-contact) (eg shouts, insults, staring, name-calling)”, within the last 12 months or before then or never; they were asked separately whether in public places (“ie the street, public transport, parks, shops etc”) they had experienced, “unwanted attention (non-contact) of a sexual nature (eg wolf-whistling, sexual comments, staring, exposure etc)”, within the last 12 months or before then or never; and they were asked separately whether in public places (“ie the street, public transport, parks, shops etc”) they had experienced, “unwanted body/physical contact of a sexual nature,” within the last 12 months or before then or never. They were also asked questions about general feelings of safety, age of first experience of intrusive/harassment behaviour, and what they thought should be done.
- Imkaan is a UK-based black feminist organization and network of black women’s groups dedicated to addressing violence against women and girls.