A new report has found that 1 in 3 girls in the UK have been sexually harassed in public when wearing their school uniform.
The research was conducted by Opinium on behalf of Plan International UK and involved surveying 1,000 young women between the ages of 14 and 21 across the United Kingdom.
Of the women surveyed, 66 percent reported experiencing unwanted sexual attention or physical contact, 35 percent reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact such as groping, and a quarter of the women stated that they had been photographed by a stranger without permission.
Many girls in the UK provided stories of their own experiences with harassment to researchers, one including a 19-year-old named Malikah who reported being followed in a car while she was walking alone and having to pretend to be on the phone with her father to avoid further harassment.
These results are already unfortunate for young women in the United Kingdom, but what is worse is that many feel that the harassment they face is “just a part of growing up.”
Another young woman interviewed for the study, age 18, told researchers what her father told her concerning sexual harassment around the United Kingdom: “You know what men are like.”
Conversations like these only result in sexual harassment becoming normalized, leaving young women believing that they have no choice but to accept poor treatment when walking to work, school, or home.
The issue of street harassment has gotten so bad in the United Kingdom that Hollaback!, a movement geared towards ending harassment, has provided women with a list of steps to take if they find themselves in that situation. The list of steps is as follows:
- Be firm: Look them in the eye and denounce their behaviour with a strong, clear voice.
- Say what feels natural: The important thing is that you are not apologetic in your response.
- Don’t engage: Harassers may try to argue with you or dismiss you through further conversation or by making fun of you. As tempting as it may be get into a verbal war with them, it is not recommended. The attention may further feed their abusive behaviour.
- Keep moving: Once you’ve said your piece, keep moving. Harassers do not deserve the pleasure of your company.
While this advice is helpful for young women, it is disappointing that street harassment has become so normalized that women must accept it and tackle it themselves. People who cat-call and harass women on the street are very seldom held accountable for their actions.
However, charities like Plan International UK are going to great lengths to end the notion that street harassment is normal and are working to elicit the government to acknowledge this sort of harassment as gender-based violence.
The charity has come up with several ideas that they wish to implement to reduce the amount of street harassment young women face. Some solutions include public awareness campaigns, bystander training, and education on how boys and young men can change their attitudes and intervene when they see harassment.
Young women and girls in the UK should not be so accustomed to facing street harassment, especially not young girls coming to and from school. Sexual harassment has become normalized in the UK due to the broad apathy towards the issue.
For more information on the fight to end harassment towards young women and girls, visit the Plan International UK website.
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