Criminalise public sexual harassment in UK, charities say

Amy Walker
·2-min read

Girls’ rights groups are calling for public sexual harassment to be criminalised in the UK after research suggested more than half of young women and girls were harassed on the street during the summer.

A fifth (19%) of young women and girls aged between 14 and 21 experienced being catcalled, followed, groped, flashed or upskirted during the spring lockdown, according to polling by children’s charity Plan International and campaign group Our Streets Now.

This rose to 51% during the summer as coronavirus restrictions were eased and more people returned to public life, the groups said. They are calling for all forms of public sexual harassment to be made a specific criminal offence to acknowledge it is “a crime, not a compliment”.

Plan International and Our Streets Now polled 1,000 parents of girls and women aged between 14 and 21 and 1,010 girls and women in the age group between 23 September and 1 October.

The research found that a third of parents (32%) had been told by their daughters that they had experienced harassment in public. Three-quarters of the girls and young women surveyed (76%) did not report the incident to the police.

Of the parents who took part in the study, 80% said they worried their daughters would experience public sexual harassment during their lifetime, with one in 10 believing their daughters younger than 11 years old would be targeted.

Related: Rape prosecutions and convictions dropped by half early in UK pandemic

Four in 10 parents said they had asked their daughters not to go out after dark or take certain routes, while two-thirds said they had instructed them not to walk home alone after a certain time.

But, amid widespread concern, a third (37%) of parents would not know where to report street harassment of their daughters. Half of the girls and young women polled believed a clear law making it a specific crime would help prevent it, and that being able to report harassment by text or online would also help.

Rose Caldwell, the chief executive of Plan International UK, said: “Listening to the girls we work with, alongside the experiences of my two teenage daughters, has made it all too clear to me, as the pandemic rages on, that public sexual harassment can no longer be ignored.

“This persistent and pervasive harassment of girls across the UK is completely unacceptable, but sadly not surprising. And this is something that affects not only girls, but their families, with parents worrying from a young age about the abuse their daughters face in public.”