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.
Rape Crisis: 0808 802 9999 Open 12:00pm-2:30pm and 7:00pm-9:30pm daily. Offers support and guidance for all victims of all forms of sexual violence. Rape Crisis also offer web chat services for victims of sexual violence.
Victim Support: 0845 30 30 900 Offers guidance to all victims of crime and their families. A crime does not need to have been reported to police to access the support and guidance that is offered by Victim Support.
Refuge: 0808 2000 247 Open 24/7. Female advisors listen to victims of domestic violence and offer support regarding decisions for one’s future.
Women’s Aid: Offers support and guidance for women experiencing domestic violence, including legal advice.
Mental health services:
Mind: 0300 123 3393 Open 9:00am-6:00pm Monday to Friday. O
operates as an initial space to discuss mental health thereupon Mind can signpost relevant services for an individual.
Anxiety UK: 03444 775 774 Open 9:00am-10:00pm Monday to Friday, and 10:00am-8:00pm Saturday and Sunday. Offers tailored support for those with anxiety (both diagnosed and undiagnosed).
No Panic: 0844 967 4848 Open 10:00am-10:00pm, costing 5p per minute to call. Offers support for those suffering from panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and other anxiety disorders.
Samaritans: 116 123 pen 24/7. Samaritans is a listening service, offering a caller the opportunity to share how they are feeling. They will not tell an individual what to do, but they will contact the emergency services if needed (according to their safeguarding policy).
Papyrus: 0800 068 4141 Open 9:00am-10:00pm Monday to Friday and 2:00pm-10:00pm Saturday to Sunday and on Bank Holidays. They offer suicide advice to young people.
Religious and spiritual services:
Suzy Lamplugh Trust: 0808 202 0300 Open 9:30am-4:00pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and 1:00pm-4:00pm on Wednesday. They offer support and guidance on understanding and reporting stalking.
Childline: 0800 11 11 Open 9:00am-12:00am daily for young people. Offers support on understanding racism at a young age and dealing with anger and sadness that arises from racist abuse.
The Monitoring Group: 020 7582 7438 Open 11:00am-6:00pm, Monday to Thursday. Offers support on racist harassment and abuse.
CST: https://cst.org.uk/report-incident Focuses specifically on anti-semitic harassment and racism. Offers support to the victim and encouragement to report incidents to the police.
Tell MAMA: https://tellmamauk.org/submit-a-report-to-us/ Offers support to victims of Islamophobia.
The Traveller Movement: https://thetravellermovement.org.uk/advocacy-support/useful-resources Entitled ‘Have you been affected by hate crime?’ this PDF offers support to understand what a hate crime is in relation to being a Traveller.
Stonewall: 0800 050 2020 Open 9:30am-4:30pm Monday to Friday. Offers support to LGBTQ people and their families. Stonewall are not an advice service, so will refer on to legal advice services should you request it.
LGBT Foundation: 0345 330 30 30 Open 9:00am-9:00pm Monday to Friday, and 10:00am-6:00pm Saturday and Sunday. Offers support and advice to LGBTQ people and offers specific advice and support regarding homophobic/biphobic/transphobic harassment.
Mermaids: 0808 801 0400 Open 9:00am-9:00pm Monday to Friday. Offers support to trans youth, up to the age of nineteen, regarding protection under the law, and signposts other resources.
Disability discrimination services:
Scope: 0808 800 3333, Textphone 18001 followed by 0800 800 3333 Open 8:00am-8:00pm Monday to Saturday, and 10:00am-6:00pm on Sunday. Offers impartial advice and support on issues related to disability. Scope will refer to third party organisations should it deem it to be necessary.
Equality Advisory Support Service: 0808 800 0084, Textphone 0808 800 0084 Open 9:00am-7:00pm Monday to Friday and 10:00am-6:00pm on Saturday. Offers advice on issues related to equality and human rights.
Sub-culture discrimination services:
The Sophie Lancaster Foundation: https://www.sophielancasterfoundation.com Offers general support and guidance for those who experience discrimination due to their participation in a sub-culture.
Counselling for Social Change: 01736 364 722 Offer counselling and support for activists to enable their work. Their phone line invites activists to practice self-care within their work.
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.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU EXPERIENCE PSH
There’s no right way to respond to street harassment. The most important thing is to put your own safety and sense of security first. Street harassment is never your fault and however you choose to respond to it is the right option for you. That being said, research (1) has shown that taking action can have a positive influence on your emotional response. So if you do, here’s three tips we’ve picked up from the testimonies we’ve received:
1. Be firm -
Speaking in an assertive tone of voice can help get your message through.
2. Shame the behaviour, not the person -
Many testimonies describe how useful it can be to criticise the behaviour rather than the person. ‘Stop it. That’s harassment and women don’t enjoy it.’ can go a long way for example.
3. Report it -
If you feel threatened in the moment, you can call 999 for immediate assistance (2). You can also report after the event, so always write down the time, location and a description of what has happened in case you might want to do so. You can also write to local councillors or your MP about the incident. If it is carried out by an identifiable employee, you could also write to their employer asking for measures to be taken.
A non-profit organization dedicated to documenting and ending gender-based street harassment worldwide. Their website has a whole page dedicated to suggesting different assertive responses to public sexual harassment.
An organisation working to end street harassment. Their website has excellent resources for different ways to respond to public sexual harassment, as a victim or a bystander.