Unfortunately, it has happened to every woman you know. 97% of women and girls of all ages have been publicly harassed in the UK. Street sexual harassment can be a really scary and intimidating experience for women of any age, but because it happens so often, we might not feel like it’s even worth talking about.
We want that to change, and for everyone to start talking about this more so that steps can be taken for it to finally stop.
What can you do if it happens to you?
Think about your personal safety first
Street harassment can be really intimidating. Unfortunately, because it is not illegal in the UK, if you react aggressively or violently, it would be you that would end up in trouble. Think about your safety first and foremost and what you can do in this situation to ensure you get where you are going safely. If it helps you feel more comfortable, carry a personal safety alarm, and a torch whenever you go out after dark.
If you feel like the situation is escalating, call someone you know in the area to come and meet you, or even call the police and give a description of who is harassing you.
Call a friend as soon as it starts
If you are on the phone to someone, it becomes clearer to the perpetrator that you are not a target, and could stop them from escalating the situation. Don’t make the call through headphones so you can also stay aware of what is going on around you.
Talk to someone about it when you get where you are going
Whether you are going to school, going to a friends house or going home, talk to someone about what you experienced when you reach your destination. Not only will it make them aware that there are potentially dangerous people on that route and can offer support for the walk in the future, but it will also give you the support you need.
Have an open conversation about what you experienced, especially with the guys in your life
The conversation around street harassment has always been that it should be women who take steps to protect themselves, rather than on guys not actually harassing women. This is where the problem lies and until women feel like they can openly discuss their experiences and guys start to listen and change their behaviour, the problem will continue.
Try sitting down with some of the guys in your life and tell them how this experience made you feel. The goal here is not to get sympathy, or make them angry or feel attacked, but to have an open and honest conversation about what needs to change. If just one person changes how they act, that’s a win for everyone.
Report it to the police
Even though street harassment is not illegal in the UK, reporting the incident to the police could help it become an offence in the future. If they receive enough reports, it makes the authorities aware that this is an issue in the area and is making residents feel unsafe. The perpetrator may be known to the police, and if the police decide to follow up with them, it could stop them from doing it to someone else.