Women say they feel “vulnerable” and “suffocated” and regularly change their behaviour to avoid abuse.
A powerful new short film, by Imkaan and EVAW is released today (8 March, International Women’s Day) which features young black and minority ethnic women in the UK talking about their experiences of being sexually harassed in public places and how it is often combined with racism.
The 5-minute film, “I’d just like to be free,” includes young women talking frankly to camera about racist stereotypes that harassers direct at them, and about receiving a barrage of racism when they object to harassment.
One woman 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 interviewee 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’.”
The film has been made by Imkaan and the EVAW Coalition, to shine a light on the impact sexual harassment has on the lives of young women (1). It features young black and minority ethnic women in the UK speaking powerfully about the touching, taunts and threats they are subjected to on a daily basis, the things they do to avoid these and the consequences of standing up to it.
For these young women, sexual harassment is having a significant impact on their lives.
Women in the film talk 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.”
Lia Latchford, Policy and Campaigns Coordinator in Imkaan’s Young Women’s Team 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, needs to talk about it and it needs to stop.”
Sarah Green, Acting Director at the End Violence Against Women Coalition said:
“Girls learn from a young age that they have to do things to avoid drawing attention to themselves. We do work to try and make sure we’re safe, and we’re made to feel responsible when we’re vulnerable.
“This film shows the changes women are making to how they move about in public to try to avoid abuse, and the devastating impact on the freedom of women in the UK today.”
Imkaan and the EVAW Coalition believe that for women to be truly free, then harassment and abuse in public has to stop. Another interviewee says it’s not women’s job to sort this out:
“I think men need to talk to each other and say actually, dude, don’t do that, that’s really messed up.”
Others call for better lighting and safety on the transport system and for people to intervene when they see a woman being harassed.
“I would just like to move around like a bird, be free, wear whatever I want to wear, say whatever I want to say and do whatever I want to do… I know that’s not realistic.”
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 is released alongside a new national survey by YouGov (2) of women’s experience of sexual harassment 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);
- 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;
- 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;
- and 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 film is launched 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.
The film is here.