A major new survey and report, commissioned by the charity Crimestoppers, has shed light on general attitudes to sexual harassment and the age at which victims are targeted. 

Of those that responded, around one in six people who answered said their first experience of sexual harassment in a public place happened when they were aged just 10 or even younger

Whilst 1,800 people participated in the survey, none of the questions were mandatory. This means that respondent numbers per question are lower than overall participant numbers.

Due to the sensitivity of the subject matter, the University of Suffolk recommended using optional questions to encourage more people to take part. 

Key findings are:

  • Around one in six participants’ (16.8%) first experience occurred when they were aged 10 or younger 
  • (3.7% aged 0-5, 13.1% aged 6-10) 30.9% of participants first encountered unwanted sexual behaviour between the ages of 14-16 
  • Almost the same percentage (29%) first experienced unwanted approaches between 11-13 years 

These shocking findings demonstrate that the majority encountered sexual harassment for the first time during adolescence or childhood. Shockingly, the survey also found that 10% of women said they had been raped with 23% saying they had been `forced’ to have sex

The report, by the University of Suffolk and commissioned by Crimestoppers, follows the impact of the #MeToo movement against sexual abuse and harassment.

Crimestoppers has also launched a national campaign today to challenge attitudes and encourage reporting on those responsible. 

Figure 10: Lifetime prevalence of unwanted sexual behaviours in public spaces: female participants [P23]

In a clear message to the culprits, fewer than 1% of victims said they felt flattered, attractive or desired after their most recent harassment experience. [P33]. 

Strikingly, around 78% of female participants spoke of experiencing unwanted questions about their sex life, and two thirds experienced staring (leering) and comments on their clothes, body or appearance.

[P23, Figure 10]. The research found that respondents change their behaviour or activities to avoid a repeat incident, with nearly 10% (9.8%) shunning outdoor areas where they had previously encountered unwanted sexual behaviours

Figure 10: Lifetime prevalence of unwanted sexual behaviours in public spaces: female participants [P23] 

More than a third (38%) have been followed and nearly a quarter (23%) have witnessed flashing/genital exposure.

Whilst the largest group of perpetrators were strangers, they were closely followed by classmates during their younger years, then acquaintances and colleagues in later life. 

Shockingly early age

Lydia Patsalides, VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls) sexual violence lead at the charity Crimestoppers, said: “This research confirms that all forms of sexual harassment begin at a shockingly early age, which is completely unacceptable. 

“It raises the question to those men involved: would you accept this behaviour towards those closest to you, such as a partner, female friend, or your daughter? 

Crimestoppers is taking its part in the conversation as these normalised behaviours, can escalate, with some perpetrators going on to commit the most serious of crimes such as rape and child abuse. 

“We know this is a difficult and complex area and won’t be solved with one study. However, it’s important that we have a frank and realistic discussion, and we must all play our part in helping change behaviour and think seriously about how sexual harassment affects others.” 

Mick Duthie, Director of Operations at the charity Crimestoppers, said: “As a father of two daughters, and an ex-police officer who dealt with the tragic circumstances of violence against women and girls, I totally understand the impact unwanted sexual behaviour has on victims. 

“It’s important that we all understand the issue and take steps to educate ourselves on what is and is not appropriate. Our research shows that a large number of very young girls are being targeted, and therefore we must all ensure we take positive steps to protect them.” 

Dr Katherine Allen from the University of Suffolk said: “In a post #MeToo era, these findings are shocking but unsurprising. Our survey underscores that sexual harassment is common, perpetrated across a range of public spaces, and remains highly gendered, disproportionately impacting women and girls and limiting their ability to exercise everyday freedoms. 

“Chiming with national and international studies, our research suggests that women and girls are subject to unwanted sexualised behaviours from an early age, and overwhelmingly experience these behaviours as intrusive, uncomfortable and intimidating.” 

A survey participant commented:“I think a lot of the time, perpetrators are completely oblivious to how their actions are making the other person feel. Being sexually harassed makes me feel genuinely scared for my safety, and scared to anger the person in case they get violent.” 

Crimestoppers is a standalone charity that is independent of the police and takes crime information whilst guaranteeing total anonymity. By never asking for or storing personal details, it encourages people to come forward who might otherwise stay silent. The process means no courts, no witness statements and no comeback. 

If you know a work colleague/friend/relative or neighbour who is involved in any criminal aspect of sexual harassment – please tell our charity. 

To pass on crime information completely anonymously, visit our website Crimestoppers-uk.org and fill in the simple and secure anonymous online form. Alternatively, call Crimestoppers’ UK Contact Centre, which is open 24/7, 365 days a year, on freephone 0800 555 111. 

Please note: Computer IP addresses are never traced, and no-one will ever know you contacted Crimestoppers.

For telephone calls, there is no number display, no 1471 facility and calls have never been traced. 

Due to the guarantee of anonymity, Crimestoppers cannot take information from victims who need to speak directly to the police or seek help from the following organisation: Victim Support – independent charity in England & Wales that provides specialist practical and emotional support to victims and witnesses of crime on 08 08 16 89 111

Read the full report here

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By Ed

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