Use this page to educate yourself, and others, about public sexual harassment.
Public sexual harassment (PSH) is the most common form of violence against women and girls.
Yet it is belittled, ignored and normalised.
We want to change that.
What is Public Sexual Harassment?
Public Sexual Harassment (PSH) comprises unwelcomed and unwanted attention, sexual advances and intimidating behaviour that occurs in public spaces, both in person and online. It is usually directed towards women and often oppressed groups within society however, it can be experienced by all.
PSH is carried out because of gender discrimination and/or power dynamics. It perpetuates an environment and culture that disregards historically vulnerable and oppressed groups of people, diminishing their sense of self-worth and denying equal access to public space. PSH is an intersectional issue. How a victim’s identity characteristics intersect, for example through race, disability and sexuality, can compound their experience of PSH as perpetrators exploit the many vulnerabilities in a victim’s identity. Not all experiences of PSH are the same. However, they are tied together by the core power dynamic in which the harasser seeks to dominate over the harassed.
To be clear, public sexual harassment is a human rights issue that reflects societal discrimination. We do not all experience PSH the same. The problem of street harassment can be committed on multiple grounds, from race to disability to sexuality, and it is often due to several overlapping factors. Our focus is centred on the prevalence and impact of gender-based public sexual harassment in particular, but all forms of harassment are interlinked.
No matter the grounds, these intrusions are always about power and control.
Intersectionality is at the core of our campaign. We want to highlight the fact that interlocking forces of oppression make individual experiences of harassment differ significantly. Our Streets Now is absolutely committed to showing the full range of PSH and we use hundreds of different testimonies to show this. You can use the resources below to educate yourself about how the rate and type of public sexual harassment is affected by other forms of oppression.
We wholly include trans* people within our movement and are passionate about trans-inclusive feminism. The harassment that trans women face in public is alarmingly violent and must be tackled as part of this problem.
Public sexual harassment is widespread within our society. The majority of women and girls in the UK will experience this violence at some point within their lifetime, and it will often begin during their childhood. PSH has become a ‘normal’ part of being a girl in the UK.
‘Sexual harassment affects the lives of nearly every woman in the UK.’
Women and Equalities Committee
of adult women have experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15. (1)
girls have experienced unwanted sexual attention in public. (2)
'Girls often first experience sexual harassment below the age of 18'
of girls experience verbal harassment at least once per month. (4)
'Sexual harassment of women and girls is so ingrained in our culture it is often hidden in plain sight' (5)
Since the outbreak of Covid-19 and the UK’s first lockdown, Plan UK has discovered that 28% of women and girls feel less safe now than they previously did when going out in public1. Their recent study has also identified that 1 in 4 girls have experienced at least one form of abuse, bullying or sexual harassment online2. With public spaces now quieter as a result of lockdown, our followers have indicated that PSH has become more common. Exercising during lockdown, whereby UK residents were only permitted one form of outdoor exercise a day, should have been a peaceful experience. Yet many women and girls are reporting an increase in sexualised harassment. Not only is this a frightening experience, but women and girls were faced with the issue of having very few places to escape to, or people in these spaces to turn to for help.
1. https://plan-uk.org/file/plan-uk-state-of-girls-rights-coronavirus-reportpdf/download?token=gddEAzlz p. 4.
2. https://plan-uk.org/file/plan-uk-state-of-girls-rights-coronavirus-reportpdf/download?token=gddEAzlz p.4.
3. https://plan-uk.org/file/plan-uk-state-of-girls-rights-coronavirus-reportpdf/download?token=gddEAzlz p. 4.
Plan International UK
A leading children’s charity striving to advance children’s rights and equality for girls all over the world. Published a report ‘Street harassment: It’s Not Okay’ outlining the prevalence and impact of street harassment on girls in the UK
Women and Equalities Committee
Select committee examining the Government’s performance on equalities issues. Published a report in 2018, ‘Sexual harassment of women and girls in public places’ to consider the impact and harm caused by this problem. The written submissions, provided by academics and women’s rights organisations, paint a detailed picture of public sexual harassment in the UK.
An organisation working to end street harassment. In 2014, they conducted the ‘Cornell International Survey on Street Harassment’, showing the global nature of this problem.
1 in 5 girls
aged 14- 21
experienced public sexual harassment
In the moment, public sexual harassment can evoke feelings of fear, anger and anxiety in the victim. In the longer term, it can lead to anxiety and depression (1).
90% of Our Streets Now Instagram followers said that public street harassment affected their mental health (2).
The Young Women’s Trust found that young women who endure sexism in the UK are ‘five times more likely to suffer from clinical depression’(3).
They also discovered that ‘younger women who had experienced sexism were more likely to report greater psychological distress even four years following a sexist experience’4. This behaviour can start incredibly young, and as such be very confusing for victims. It is important to remember that it is never the victim's fault.
If you want to talk to someone about your experience, OUR STREETS NOW is always here to listen.
Public sexual harassment has a massive impact on the lives of women and girls. It affects their day-to-day routine and can have damaging effects on their mental health.
'I felt disgusted and dirty. I never told anyone.'
'I don't go running outside anymore.'
Women and girls’ day-to-day lives are affected by public sexual harassment (PSH).
Cornell University and Hollaback! (4) found that because of it, women and girls change their clothing, take different routes home, can avoid socialising at night entirely, and may even consider changing their jobs or homes because of it.
The testimonies Our Streets Now has received reinforces this sad truth: every aspect of our lives is affected by PSH. Whether it’s deciding not to go for a run outdoors or being late to school, PSH can have far-reaching consequences.
Imkaan and EVAW UK
These two women’s rights organisations teamed up to produce the film ‘I’d just like to be free’ discussing the impact of sexual harassment on young women.
Plan International UK
A leading children’s charity striving to advance children’s rights and equality for girls all over the world. Published a report ‘Street harassment: It’s Not Okay’ outlining the prevalence and impact of street harassment on girls in the UK.
Women and Equalities Committee
Select committee examining the Government’s performance on equalities issues. Published a report in 2018, ‘Sexual harassment of women and girls in public places’ to consider the impact and harm caused by this problem. Fiona Vera-Gray’s written submission to the commission details the impact of public sexual harassment on women and girls lives.
Public sexual harassment infringes on women and girls right to public space. It restricts their freedom of movement and of expression.
' I DO NOT FEEL FREE'
Freedom of Movement.
‘I was once on a bus around 7 am heading to school and a man sat uncomfortably close to me and started touching himself over his jeans so I moved to the back of the bus, where he followed me and unzipped his pants and touched himself. I was 15.’
Harassment on public transport restricts our ability to get on with our lives, to travel where and when we want. Nearly a third of women who take public transport say they have been subjected to unwanted attention in the past year. It’s hardly surprising then that half of girls in the UK feel (or know a girl who feels) unsafe using public transport.
Freedom of Expression.
‘I was walking back from school and my friends and I were whistled at. A man shouted that we would look better without an abaya and headscarf. That we should take it off.’
The way we dress, including for religious reasons, can be severely restricted by public sexual harassment. Veiled Muslim women are particularly at risk of facing abuse that is both misogynistic and Islamophobic in nature. Not wearing what we want to and fearing the consequences of certain clothing choices restricts our right to self-expression.
Leading charity for girls and young women in the UK. ‘We See the Big Picture: Girls Attitudes Survey’ shows that alarmingly high
Stop Street Harassment
A non-profit organization dedicated to documenting and ending gender-based street harassment worldwide. Their website explores many of the ways public sexual harassment impinges on women and girls’ rights.
An organisation working to end street harassment. They are working to create a world in which all individuals are afforded dignity in public space.
What is a public space?
Public spaces are areas that include streets and parks as well as areas which require ticketed or paid access but are still open to members of the public. These can include leisure centres, swimming pools, gigs and concerts, pubs and restaurants, and any other venues that are not categorised as private homes or workspaces.