One in three UK schoolgirls experiences sexual harassment, some before they are in their teens, according to a new survey.
A poll of more than 1,000 girls and young women aged 14 to 21 by charity Plan International UK, which advocates for children’s rights and gender equality, found that 35% reported having been catcalled, leered at or even groped while wearing their school uniform.
“One in eight of those were aged 12 or younger when they experienced this for the first time,” Sky News reports. A large percentage of incidents occurred while the victims were on their way to or from school.
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Some respondents said they had been followed or photographed in public without their consent, including attempts to take photos under their school skirts.
A girl identified as Sarah from Birmingham told The Independent that she and her friends had been approached by two adult men in a car while waiting for their teacher outside school in their PE kits after a basketball practice.
“They were asking weird questions - like ‘do you want to get in the car?”, she said. “It wasn’t an innocent kind of a thing. It was really creepy thing to say to a bunch of 14-year-olds.”
Another girl said that derogatory comments about her body made by strangers in the street while she was walking to school made her feel “ashamed to be female”.
Overall, 66% of girls and young women aged 14 to 21 polled for Plan UK’s new report, entitled Street harassment: It’s not ok, said they have experienced unwanted sexual attention or harassment in a public place. Many said that bystanders ignored the situation or did little to help.
“The inaction of people who witnessed these incidents often made these feelings worse, sending a message that it was something girls just had to accept,” writes Jess Southgate, the author of the report.
Tanya Barron, chief executive at Plan International UK, said the testimony they had heard from respondents was “shocking” and “deeply concerning”.
“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,” she said.
“This disgraceful behaviour needs to be called out and stopped.”
The charity is calling on the UK government to recognise street harassment as a form of gender-based violence and take action to combat it.
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