More must be done to tackle street harassment

Moves to tackle sexual harassment welcome

Dr Marian Duggan from SSPSSR welcomes a report from the Women and Equalities Committee saying more must be done to tackle the street harassment and intimidation that many girls and women say they receive on a daily basis.

‘Reports of this kind are important to shed light on the everyday experiences of women who are subjected to uninvited comments, suggestions or touching from strangers. Many women who have experienced such behaviours may have found coping mechanisms to mitigate the effects, or found that their frequency and/or impact has lessened over time.

‘However, for younger women who are targeted for sexual harassment, this can be very intimidating and cause them fear. Recent reports have highlighted the concerns of schoolgirls who are harassed in public spaces while wearing their uniforms.

‘In the majority of all these cases, the harassers are adult males. More importantly, when harassment is perpetrated by males in groups of two or more against a woman who is alone, this can be considerably distressing. While the harasser may know their intentions are limited to verbal harassment, the person being harassed has no idea how far the situation could go.

‘Woman are also reluctant to confront harassers for fear of reprisal; the recent case of a woman who shouted back at her harasser in Paris only for him to approach her and punch her in the face highlights the fears many women hold that verbal abuse may quickly escalate into physical violence if they respond.

‘Ensuring that public transport operators and pub landlords take tougher action against sexual harassment are to be commended, as are the proposals around blocking the viewing of pornography on public transport.

‘Such measures will ensure a more pleasant environment for all and would feed into the proposed public campaign to change attitudes on a broader level. A new “Violence Against Women and Girls” strategy is to be welcomed, not least due to the developments made in recognising and responding to additional forms of sexual harassment (such as ‘upskirting’).

‘While many universities have taken steps to address sexual harassment and victimisation on campus, further debate around the potential for imposing legal obligations through dedicated policies outlawing these behaviours will help shed further light on the issue.

‘For many years now, the ‘Everyday Sexism’ project has been a hugely important resource for women (and men) to highlight the kinds of ‘low level’ harassment they experience on a daily basis that may impact on their use of public space or transport, their choice of clothing, their mannerisms and so forth.

‘Perhaps more importantly, it has shown others in society that what they may consider appreciative compliments, throwaway comments or harmless banter can have very negative repercussions on the targets of their attention.’

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