Four in 10 young women experience street harassment in London

Protestors against street harassment in Washington DC. Photography: M. V. Jantzen

(Just a quick post today – the three scariest exams are over, but there’s still one to come!)

From The Guardian:

A YouGov survey of 1,047 Londoners commissioned by End Violence Against Women Coalition (Evaw) found that 43% of women aged between 18 and 34 had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces in the last year.


The poll also found 31% of women aged 18 to 24 experienced unwanted sexual attention on public transport and 21% of 25- to 34-year-olds. Overall, 5% of the women surveyed had experienced unwanted sexual contact on public transport.

The figures are obviously shocking, and far too high, but what surprised me (and many others, if responses on my Twitter feed are anything to go by) was that they aren’t considerably higher. Virtually every young woman I know has experienced sexual harassment, on the streets or public transport, in some form or other. When I lived in Paris it was a weekly, sometimes daily occurrence, and it’s one of my biggest fears about moving to London this summer.

As EVAW Director Holly Dustin says:

Sexual harassment is so ingrained that we barely notice it, but when you start talking to women almost every one has a horrible story to tell: it’s time for society to stand up and put a stop to it.

There is currently only very limited research into the prevalence of sexual harassment in the UK – I’d be really interested to see a national survey carried out – but anecdotal eveidence suggests that the problem is huge. It’s only when you start talking about it that you realise the extent to which other women around you share the same, or even worse, experiences of being harassed in public places. According to The F Word blog, “some international studies appear to show that as many as 80% of women have experienced sexual harassment”.

It’s also an issue that almost invariably attracts comments from men who argue that women are making a big fuss about nothing, and should be “flattered” by the attention. This argument completely fails to understand that catcalls, wolf-whistles and groping – persistent, unsolicited intrusions into your personal space – are not only irritating and upsetting, but really damaging to women and girls’ self-esteem. My anxiety about going out on my own is so bad that often I just don’t bother unless I really have to. That’s not ok.

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4 thoughts on “Four in 10 young women experience street harassment in London

  1. I’d be curious to know whether the stats are so low because women are brought up not to make a fuss. Obviously, without knowing the exact questions that were posed, it’s hard to tell, but I get the impression that many women (myself included) have at times, or consistently, failed to identify their experiences as sexual harassment because they don’t want to make a fuss and “blow them out of proportion” even in their own minds.

    With the sense of shame and embarrassment linked to 1) sexual harassment and 2) making a fuss/being seen as a shouty feminist, the stats don’t surprise me, sadly.

    Thanks for this post, and good luck with your final exam!


    1. I think that’s a huge part of it. Someone else who commented on Twitter said they think many women just don’t consider themselves “victims” because they don’t believe “oi gorgeous” type remarks count. It’s so ingrained that you’re expected to just take it as a compliment, no matter how self-conscious, vulnerable or insecure it makes you feel.

  2. I did an essay on street harassment, and one study showed that 100% of women in one city had experiences of harassment. I was suprised (sadly) that it wasn’t much higher, because as you say, everyone you know has a story to tell about it! I think circlesunderstreetlights is right, that we’re encouraged not to think of it as harassment, and even as flattery, which may have skewed the results.

    It really does need to be taken seriously as a harm that women experience on a daily basis. It restricts women’s movement in public spaces by making them afraid of going out in certain areas or at certain times, and so often is a precursor to other kinds of harassment and violence. I *hate* the ‘boys will be boys’ attitude about street harassment, as if they just can’t help themselves – I would find that insulting if I was a man and it is just no excuse.

    I love what Hollaback are doing, it’s great to get this issue out there, but I do wonder what kind of concrete solutions we can propose to start sorting this?

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