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Take a stand against street harassment of girls

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Plan Interational UK, street harassment, UK girls, school uniform, sexual harassment, #IayItsNotOKDespite harassment happening to girls in public places people did not step in to help.

In September a survey by girls’ rights charity Plan International UK revealed that 66 per cent of girls in the UK had experienced unwanted sexual attention or unwanted sexual or physical contact in a public place.

That survey of 1,004 girls aged 14-21 also found that 38 per cent of girls experienced verbal harassment like catcalling, wolf whistling and sexual comments at least once a month, while 15 per cent were touched, groped or grabbed every month.

And nearly 1 in 10 girls reported experiencing upskirting – where someone took a photograph up their skirt without their permission.

This regular street harassment has meant girls found themselve being forced to take steps to avoid being targeted: 43 per cent pretended to be on the phone, 22 per cent walked a longer route to avoid somewhere, 17 per cent dressed differently or changed what they wore and 14 per cent said they wouldn’t sit at the top of a bus, or in an empty train or tube carriage.

But despite this happening in public places like parks, high streets and bus stops people did not step in to help.

Only a fifth of girls who had experienced street harassment said someone had responded in a way they found helpful.

Useful responses included asking if they were OK, speaking to the person doing the harassing or helping the girl to report the harassment to a professional.

And then a survey by Plan International UK released in October found that more than a third of girls in the UK have received unwanted sexual attention or contact such as being groped, stared at, catcalled and wolf-whistled while wearing their school uniform in public.

One in eight girls said their first experience of unwanted sexual attention or contact in a public place was when they were 12 years old or younger.

A survey of 1,004 girls aged 14-21 also found that one in seven girls had been followed while in uniform, while eight per cent said they had been filmed or photographed by a stranger without their permission or someone had taken a photograph up their school skirt.

Plan International UK is now calling on the government, local councils and police forces to acknowledge street harassment as a form of violence against women and girls.

And this week Plan International UK published a new report highlighting the experiences of girls across the UK, and specific actions policymakers can take to tackle the issue.

The report is the result of in-depth interviews with girls from across the UK about their experiences of sexist behaviour in public and how it compromises their freedom.

Tanya Barron, Chief Executive at Plan International UK, said, “It is shocking and deeply concerning that girls, many of whom are clearly of school age because they are in uniform, are being targeted and sexually harassed by perpetrators in the street.

“It’s simply not acceptable that girls as young as 12 are being wolf-whistled at in public, touched against their will, stared at or even followed. This disgraceful behaviour needs to be called out and stopped.

“We already know that women sadly experience street harassment all too often, but this survey brings to light the shocking fact that it’s regularly happening to girls as young as 14, too,” Barron continued.

“They are being harassed while they’re out with their friends, travelling on public transport and just trying to get on with their everyday lives.

“Girls have a right to move around independently and be in public places without fear.

“They are telling us that they refuse to accept harassment as a normal part of growing up.

“They want to see change, and we all have a responsibility to help make that happen.”

And we all have a part to play in making that happen.

Which is why Plan International is asking you to stand with UK girls and say #ISayItsNotOK, as it calls on the government to recognise harassment in public as a form of gender-based violence in its strategy to end violence against women and girls.

If you have experienced street harassment and need to talk to someone, you can call Childline on 0800 1111, or visit Childline’s website.

If you experience behaviour that makes you feel uncomfortable on public transport, you can report it to the British Transport Police by texting what, when and where to 61016.

If you feel threatened, call the police on 999.

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