Street harassment survey

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Street harassment survey

Plan International is a global organisation that works to make cities safer for young women and girls around the world. Its latest ‘Sexism in the City’ report is based on a survey of approximately 500 women aged 18 to 25 in Sydney. The disturbing picture emerging from the research is that street harassment is very common, it can be very serious, and perhaps most concerning, it commonly begins at age 11. A young woman's access to public life is challenged by sexual harassing behaviour, and it shapes her mental health and her identity.

Key findings from Plan International Australia’s Sexism in the City report include: 

  • One in four young women in Sydney experience street harassment at least once a month.
  • More than one-third of respondents were first harassed between the ages of 11 and 15.
  • One in three girls who have been harassed once a month or more report experiencing anxiety, depression or ongoing mental health issues as a direct result.
  • Those who have been harassed on a regular basis (once a month or more) are twice as likely to report experiencing anxiety, depression or ongoing mental health issues as a result.
  • Girls who first experienced street harassment at a younger age (15 or under) were more likely to report ongoing impacts on their behaviour and wellbeing.
  • Around three in four young women were harassed in front of bystanders, yet just 16% say someone stepped in to help them. Just one in 10 young women in Sydney say they always feel safe to go out at night. One in six say they always feel unsafe in the city after dark. 
  • The most common forms of street harassment experienced by young women are: cat-calling (83%), menacing behaviour (55%), being told to smile (44%), having their path blocked (30%), being touched inappropriately (30%), physical violence/sexual assault (10%). 
  • The majority of young women (90%) said they sometimes or always made specific plans to keep themselves safe on a night out. Two-thirds (58%) said they always made safety plans. 
  • More than half (57%) had cancelled their plans to go out because of safety concerns.
  • In almost all cases, the perpetrators were men (95%).

According to the researchers, street harassment is a common and often silently endured experience, because reporting mechanisms are entirely inadequate. The vast majority of young women surveyed (85%) felt that reporting systems for street harassment are not good enough. When asked what they did in response to the most serious incident they had experienced, only 1 in 13 (7%) young women reported it to authorities. Reporting to family and friends was much more common (60%), whilst almost a third (30%) did nothing. 

The researchers would like to see those with a stake in city safety, whether it is councils, city planners, police or transit authorities, step up and take this issue seriously. They argue that a concerted effort is required to tackle this problem, which, it is argued, stems from deep seated inequality.

Overwhelmingly (9 out of 10), young women say men in particular have an important role to intervene if they see street harassment occurring. Like any form of sexism, a culture shift is required so that this behaviour is never encouraged and that it’s not seen as normal or acceptable.

Sydney is one of five locations worldwide where Plan International is currently using digital mapping technology via it’s Free to Be project to collect data on the real experiences of thousands of girls and young women when they navigate their cities. Plan International’s city safety maps are now live in Delhi, Kampala, Lima, Sydney and Madrid. 

Created by Plan International Australia in partnership with CrowdSpot and Monash University, the Free to Be map allows young women and girls to drop a ‘good’ pin on the locations in the city that they like and a ‘bad’ pin on the areas where they feel uncomfortable or unsafe.  They can then provide anonymous detail about that area or record a particular incident that occurred there. Findings will be delivered to businesses and government.

Read Sexism in the City