A YouGov survey for the End Violence Against Women Coalition published today reveals the extent of sexual harassment experienced by women in public spaces over the last year.

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).