25-year-old Natasha remembers how disgusting it was to watch a grown man harass her 10-year-old sister. It happened when they were walking home from school in their school uniforms, and a grown man opened his car window and whistled. She told researchers that it just made her feel sick.
A survey conducted by Plan International UK has found that this is a common occurrence in the country, and a third of the girls in the UK have said that they have been s*xually harassed while in their school uniforms. Nearly all schoolchildren wear uniforms in Britain, and most of the respondents in the survey reported that they have been catcalled or whistled at some point. One in seven girls has reported that they have been followed home while in their uniform, and some even say that men have tried to take pictures up their skirts, leaving them feeling “s*xualized and fetishized”.
“I’m not allowed to go out in my uniform anymore. My mum says I look older than I am.” – a 14-year-old student named Nyasha says.
Ffion, 25, told the researchers that she recalls the harassment that came her way in high school.
“Men would ask if they could take a picture with me in my uniform. It was awful. Before that I used to be walking home, and I was so scared walking home.” – she noted.
1,000 girls and women aged from 14 to 21 participated in the survey, and researchers conducted long-form interviews with young women and academics in addition.
What the researchers have found is that harassment starts early. Children as young as 8 have reported that they have been victims or witnesses to s*xual harassment, and more than two-thirds of the children questioned in the survey said that they have experienced “unwanted s*xual attention” in public. More than a third said that they have been groped or grabbed without their consent.
Many of the participants said that they feel harassment is “all part of growing up”.
Plan International UK has stated that street harassment is a form of “gender-based violence”, and it has pushed for a public information campaign to communicate that harassment is not OK. It also includes a bystander training to teach witnesses how to safely intervene in such situations.
Tanya Barron, who runs Plan International UK, said:
“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 behavior needs to be called out and stopped.”