Call for public sexual harassment of young women and girls to become a criminal offence

·2-min read

Half of young women and girls were harassed on Britain's streets during the summer, new research has found.

The survey, by girls' rights organisations Plan International UK and Our Streets Now, showed 51% experienced harassment over the summer, including being catcalled, followed, groped, flashed and upskirted.

It also found that a fifth (19%) experienced harassment during the first national lockdown in spring.

The groups are calling for the public sexual harassment of girls to be made a specific criminal offence, with the launch of a #CrimeNotCompliment campaign.

"This has become a normal part of being a girl and that is not ok," Maya Tutton, co-founder of Our Streets Now, told Sky News.

"We have to draw a line in the sand and say we deserve to feel safe and we deserve to be safe in public."

Maya, 21, said she founded the campaign with her sister Gemma, 16, because of her sibling's experiences.

Gemma has experienced public sexual harassment since she was 11. She said the perpetrators have ranged from boys as young as her to men as old as 70.

"As I get older the experiences become worse and more scary," she told Sky News. "It lays like a weight on my chest every time I go outside."

Gemma recalled one particular experience that galvanised a desire to fight back.

"I was 13 years old and walking home from school when I came across a group of men who started sexually harassing me.

"I turned around and I said 'Guys, I'm 13'. They looked at me, laughed, and told me age didn't matter to them.

"That really brought home to me the fact that public sexual harassment is about power and that it really wasn't my fault."

Their survey polled 1,000 parents of girls aged between 14 and 21; and 1,010 girls in this age group, between 23 September and 1 October.

Among the parents, 80% worry their daughter will experience public sexual harassment during her lifetime, and one in 10 are worried their daughters younger than 11 will be targeted.

Four in 10 parents said they have asked their daughters not to go out after dark.

But despite the concern, a third (37%) of parents would not know where to report street harassment of their daughters, and 70% of parents whose daughters have experienced it did not report it to the police.

The campaigners hope a clear law that criminalises all forms of public sexual harassment will make girls more likely to report cases that do occur.

"Girls feel that it won't be taken seriously," Rose Caldwell, chief executive of Plan International UK, said.

"Sometimes they feel that they might be blamed. They are not to blame. The people to blame are the harassers and they're the people who need to change their behaviour."