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Coventry group surveys street harassment


How safe do women feel in public spaces?

Coventry Women’s Voices (CWV) launched a survey this week to discover how widespread street harassment is in Coventry, and how safe women feel in public spaces.

CWV together with the Integrated Transport & Logistics Group at Coventry University have set up the survey in an attempt to find out the degree of concern women who live and work in Coventry have about their safety in public spaces.

The survey will measure women’s experience of harassment in public spaces in Coventry and the findings will be launched for International Women’s Day in March 2013.

Street harassment is something most women will face at some point in their lives.

Indeed the international movement Stop Street Harassment says that around the world between 70-100 per cent of women have experienced some form of harassment in public.

This harassment can include anything from leering, wolf-whistling and sexual comments to groping, masturbation and assault.

Any woman who has experienced this will tell you that it is never a pleasant experience, despite a prevailing opinion among some male street harassers who believe women ‘enjoy the attention’.

Emily May, the founder of  anti-street harassment movement Hollaback! said: “It stems from a broader culture of gender-based violence.

“To shift that culture it takes people standing up and saying street harassment is not okay.

“Because most people in our society don’t want it to exist.”

Street harassment hit the headlines earlier this year when the UK finally signed up to the Council of Europe’s Convention on Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence.

The vast majority of media coverage of this zoned in on a couple of sentences in the Covention which pledge to make illegal unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’.

Tabloids, Tweets and talk shows joined the flurry of concern over the fact that this could effectively ban wolf whistling and other forms of verbal harassment.

Shock, horror!

This deflected attention away from the fact that the Convention is aimed at tackling a much broader range of issues, from domestic violence, to rape, to female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

And from the fact that the UK government was painfully slow at signing up to it.

However, if wolf whistling and other forms of street harassment are caught in the far-reaching net of this Convention, then all the better.

Because yes, street harassment – from a whistle, to a leer, to a longer than neccesary stare, to a grope – is “intimidating, degrading, humiliating [and] offensive”.

Last year in the lead up to the Olympics, a YouGov poll published by the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) revealed that over a quarter of women living in London feel unsafe when using public transport.

I reported on this at the time, and when I interviewed women who lived in London, I found that the ‘1 in 4’ figure greatly increased when you asked about women’s experiences once off the bus or tube.

The Coventry survey was inspired by the EVAW survey done in London, and hopes to highlight the issue in the city.

Coventry Women’s Voices said: “International studies show that most women experience harassment in public places at some point in their lives.

“Harassment can range from comments to groping, flashing and assault.

“It is rarely reported but can have serious long term effects such as depression, anxiety and a reduced sense of safety that affects what women do and where they go.

“We want to know how women in Coventry are affected by harassment as the first step to tackling this often invisible problem.”

To complete the survey yourself, click here.

  1. Really good article Naomi. Had a comment about the pic accompanying the article – the implication of which is that only women who are dressed up in tight clothes and high heels get harassed, and also gives a whiff of ‘what does she expect?’.

    And so it plays into the wearying focus on what women wear and the consequent link to the possibility of harassment. So the pic was of a woman wearing jeans and trainers, the point would be made without playing into the trope.

  2. I can see how it could be viewed that way, but, as always I think this is in the eye of the beholder.

    The image, to me, shows a strong, confident woman who is well dressed, but not overtly sexually. The skirt is not short, the top is not low, the sleeves are long, the heels average. She also isn’t some stereotypical ‘pretty young thing’. In fact, if it wasn’t for the men leering at her (and perhaps the colour of the dress!) she looks dressed for pretty much any smart occasion – ie, I think it’s the way the men are behaving that gives the hint of sexuality to this picture.

    That this picture has raised a comment is interesting though. Because she isn’t dressed in jeans and trainers she is ‘dressed up’? Isn’t the whole point of this piece about women being able to wear what they damn well please and not have to be harassed in the street? Isn’t the idea of an ‘Everywoman’ (a jeans and trainers wearing one?) absolutely what we’re trying to get away from? Are we not fighting for the right to be recognised as different and that we should be respected whatever our choice of clothing?

    This woman doesn’t represent me, I’d never wear that colour for a start! Nor do I wear jeans and trainers. But she represents a woman, walking down a street and being leered at, something that many women can identify with.

    My only objection to this photograph would be that she seems rather happy with the attention from the expression on her face. But maybe she’s also confident in herself that she can walk past them and not be affected by their behaviour? A picture is worth a thousand words.

    I think imagery can be helpful or divisive, and we bring our own experiences to bear when viewing a picture. Which is why it is only a mere fraction of the article, which I believe is extremely clear about where we stand on this issue and puts the picture well and truly in context.

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