"Nice legs, get in the trunk": Thousands of women experience street harassment on a daily basis - but now they are #shoutingback

One woman described how she was "chased to my door at 11.30pm by two lads who 'Didn't want to hurt me.' I ran faster"

The Everyday Sexism Project was set up to document street harassment, sexism in the workplace and misogyny in the media (Photo by Chameleons Eye / Rex Features)

'Nice legs', 'Hey sexy lady', 'Now I know where you live', 'Get in the trunk, bitch'.

For many women and teenage girls these remarks are not a rare but a daily occurrence.

Coupled with lewd remarks and gropings comes a prevailing attitude that this is simply something women should put up with.

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And while many might consider such boorish behaviour verging on the criminal as a relic of yesteryear it is a daily blight on the lives of many in Britain today.

Laura Bates was the target of such behaviour and knew it was wrong but didn't know what to do about it. It was only when she shared her experiences with her friends that she realised she was not alone. And that was when she decided something needed to change.

The 26-year-old freelance writer hit upon using Twitter to collect women's stories and empower them and in April last year launched ‘The Everyday Sexism Project’. She invited Twitter users to share their experiences of harassment through the hashtag Shoutingback thereby giving women a modern tool and a platform with which to fight back.

Within five days it had 3,500 tweets.

Women like Melinda Greenacre, 23, who works in advertising stumbled upon the hashtag and decided to contribute.  

She said: “Rarely a day goes by without a man making comments, like ‘hey sexy lady’, or ‘get in my car’. Most of the time I brush it off but when it’s at night – then I get scared and feel uncomfortable.”

She, too, knew such behaviour was wrong but had normalised it. It was by taking part in Shoutingback that she knew she should never have put up with it. And her story is not an isolated case.

For Laura it reinforces the reason why she started the Twitter campaign and its associated 'Everyday Sexism Project’ to encourage women to speak out.

The tweets make for sobering reading. Women have documented how men catcall them while walking down the street, touch them inappropriately, follow them home and even threaten them with rape.

They also described the frequency of these incidents. That they happened everyday, regardless of where they were, regardless of the time of day, regardless how drunk or sober they were, regardless of what they were wearing.

One woman described how she was "chased to my door at 11.30pm by two lads who 'Didn't want to hurt me.' I ran faster".

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They also showed how aggressive the harassers become upon rejection – a comment such as “Come here” can switch to “You whore, I’ll beat you so hard” within seconds.

The stark reality of these experiences reverberated around the Twitterverse and caused many to sit up and take note of the true extent of sexual harassment in Britain today.

Laura said: “The profile made women feel more confident to speak up about it. When they had said something before they would get a backlash – responses like ‘you’re frigid’ or ‘you can’t take a joke’. There was this idea that the problem did not exist anymore.”

Sexism at work is one of the most common entries.

Laura said: “We’ve had stories of women in IT who answer the phones and the man on the other end say they want to speak to a man because a women won't understand the problem.  Another story was a boss telling a women to sit on his lap to get a Christmas bonus.”

But not all of the stories involve adults.

She continued: “Girls in their school uniform have been sexually harassed or touched in the street.”

Having young girls share such traumatising stories with her shocked and upset Laura, but she added: “It doubles my determination to get the information out there.”

The entries also showed sexual assault in public places was a common theme - with many women simply unaware they had been victim of a crime.

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She said: “Women would go to bars and clubs and regularly be touched on their a**e, their breast and so on  and they had no idea they were being sexually assaulted.”

The definition of sexual assault is it is when someone is inappropriately touched without giving consent - such as a hand on the bottom or leg. Its most serious form is rape.

Many of the women sharing their experiences were naïve and didn't realise that being groped in a bar constituted sexual assault – and most importantly that it could be reported to the police.

Laura, who since launching the project has received death threats and threats of rape from men, said: “When a women is shouted at on the street the silence of people around her says volumes. There was an instance when a women on a bus was cornered at the back by men saying lewd and threatening things to her -  no one stepped up and intervened. People just thought these experiences were just part of being a women.”

Laura has since launched another hashtag called ‘followed’ which encourages women to tweet occurrences when she feels she is being pursued.  Like Shoutingback, the experiences are common and heartbreaking to read.

So far 20,000 experiences have been shared and the project has had the backing from MP Stella Creasy and ‘Double Jeopardy’ actress Ashley Judd. Recently the project encouraged Twitter users to tweet a supermarket chain to change the display of its magazines after spotting the supermarket stocked science and politics magazines only in the men’s lifestyle section. 

The project has seen men also give their support to women and vow to intervene if they witness street harassment or sexual assault.

As International Woman’s Day celebrates its 102nd year Laura is adamant that there is still a need for feminism and projects like ‘Everyday Sexism’.

She adds that what may seem like a harmless catcall on the street can quickly escalate to sexual assault and rape. One in five women over 16 in England Wales have been the victim of a sexual offence.

Laura said: All of these issues are connected and everyday sexism is an underlying factor.”

She added: “The laws that are there to promote equality are not matching up to the reality. It suggests that we have not come as far as we think we have. If we look back to the Jimmy Savile scandal, when the allegations came out a lot of people said ‘thank goodness it’s not like that anymore’ - but we see the same complaints on the projects.”

Laura’s message is clear – as long as these experiences persist, women will keep shouting back.