More than four in ten young women in London sexually harassed over the last year

// 25 May 2012

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Via the EVAW Coalition’s Press Release:

Call for awareness campaign, training and ‘bystander intervention’

EVAW logo

A YouGov survey for the End Violence Against Women Coalition 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.

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. 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.

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.

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).

Comments From You

Shadow // Posted 25 May 2012 at 2:49 pm

Wonder who are the ones subjecting so many women and girls to ‘sexual harassment.’ Ah yes it is other women and girls because men are claiming ‘they are routinely subjected to sexual harassment by females!

But we cannot begin to address problem if sex of perpetrators must not be named and yet at same time everyone knows it is men and boys are the ones routinely subjecting women and girls to sexual harassment/threats of sexual violence. Hollaback has documented evidence that it is males of all ages who routinely engage in demonstrating their male domination over women and girls.

One wonders why here in the UK laws are in place outlawing male

sexual/verbal harassment of female colleagues within the workplace and

whilst it sends a clear message to men contempt for women is not

acceptable, men need only step outside their workplaces in order to

engage in subjecting any female of any age with unwanted sexual insults

because the female target either does not meet male standards of

appropriate “sexual hotness to males.” Or she is supposedly flaunting

her sexuality and the poor males cannot help themselves since their

sexual desires supposedly rule their intellect. In which case males

need to be subjected to 24/7 monitoring and curfews in order that women

and girls can safely navigate public spheres and public transport. But

the real reason why so many males subject women to male harassment is

because men can and our society condones/excuses/justifies this male

behaviour and it reinforces male domination over all women. Men have to

constantly remind us that we only exist because of men’s patronage and

this will be swiftly withdrawn and men will subject us to vile insults

and threats of male sexual violence if we do not accord them sufficient

deference since they are supposedly the superior sex.

Here’s link to Hollaback which evidences fact males globally routinely subject women and girls to sexual harassment and issue is all about our sex – not because males are supposedly ruled by their sexual feelings. If that were the case then males would need to be monitored 24/7 and a curfew placed on them in order that women and girls can enter the public sphere and access public transport without being subjected to male intimidation and male threats of sexual violence.

Rhubarb // Posted 25 May 2012 at 8:45 pm

As a now-26 year old woman who grew up in London, I’m kind of surprised that the figures aren’t higher given the (necessarily) wide definition of ‘sexual attention’ (I am not trying to say that the levels reported here are in any way acceptable, though).

lil1 // Posted 26 May 2012 at 12:53 pm

A massive part of the problem is being made to feel that you cannot, and must not, draw attention to what those men are doing – certainly not confront them in any way. But obviously this is what you need to do the most. And when a man in the wrong there and then experiences consequences for his behaviour in a public space, it sends out such a strong message.

But it doesn’t happen enough. And it’s not going to become acceptable to do so until many more women do it. And they don’t partly because of this awful physical discrimination against women. Around every situation where men impose or become a nuisance, this mentally oppressive sort of cognitive climate surfaces, around the harrassor’s innate magical superiority by virtue of malehood – and it lurks there in the heads of everyone around the uncomfortable situation that the man/men created. I do not care if the person on the receiving end is a size six and 4 ft 11, I think we should check ourselves every time we try to limit her with ‘what he might do’ because of our own prejudices against her – BACK her UP – remember her reaction if not deferant is a natural response – call him out, confront him. Don’t expect her to be deferent for her own supposed good. So intervention absolutely, but her right to assertion? Women caught in these instances time and again are not looking for confrontation clearly, but they need to feel free to react. I don’t want to be one who stands in the way of that because that I think is a massive part of the problem. Move towards warning men not to provoke strangers in the street. I would like see a campaign in that vein. Because I’m sure there are often consequences that get obscured in the public consciousness by the usual constructed climate of fear directed at women.

It goes right back to the idea that it’s women who are behavoural gatekeepers. And I don’t think if we are honest that the most forward thinking of us are quite over that.

Taša-Lou Schu // Posted 27 May 2012 at 1:21 am

@Rhubarb – I agree. Since the weather’s been nice over the past week, I would say it’s happened to me at least twice a day on the days I’ve gone out. My short shorts are not an open invitation!

Farrah Kelly // Posted 27 May 2012 at 11:12 am

I’m surprised it’s not higher- and I think the survey could have included females age 12 up, based on experiences I’ve had. Sexual harassment starts early. I’ve written a blog here on my experiences of being followed and harassed here ( Has anyone else had similar experiences so young? *shudder*.

Danielle Rose // Posted 28 May 2012 at 12:27 pm

My instinct is that the real figures are much higher. The day before the report’s findings were published, I’d written a blog post following some incidents of street harassment that I’d experienced the two evenings before (

Reading comments on my blog post and those on the articles published following the release of the report’s findings, it seems that there are a few key problems:

* Denial that there is even an issue, because all women like a compliment right?

* Blaming the victims, and suggesting that if we don’t like harassment we should stay at home or only leave house with a chaperone!

* Men who believe that the male population can’t help themselves (something, something about “testosterone” and evolving from “cavemen”…), and as a troll on my blog put it we should “not judge MEN with a female brain”!

* Anger that wanting to protect the right of women to travel safely somehow infringes on men’s rights (to harass?)

I know I shouldn’t be shocked by above or the backlash against the report, but surely deep down everyone regardless of sex wants the same thing – to be able to go about their lives without harassment and wishes the same for others?

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