By Niamh Brown
One in five girls and young women (19%) experienced street harassment during the first lockdown a survey by Plan International UK has found.
The poll questioned over 1000 girls aged 14 – 21 about their experiences with street harassment during the six weeks of lockdown from mid March 2020.
The survey also concluded that whilst the streets have been virtually empty, another one in five girls (18%) said that they felt that sexual harassment had gotten worse during the lockdown.
Rose Caldwell, the CEO of Plan International UK commented that “We know that girls are subject to harassment in all areas of life, yet these shocking statistics show that even a national lockdown is not enough to prevent perpetrators carrying out this abuse.”
Caoimhe McLaughlin, 23, a student from Buncrana agreed that lockdown not only exacerbated harassment but asserted that sexual harassment found itself a larger platform online.
“I thought that with dating and getting to know people moving completely online for covid that the whole uncomfortable part of dealing with boys my age would cease a bit, but harassment just moves online in my personal experience. I’ve had too many encounters to keep track of boys harassing me for my snapchat because they ‘want me to be their pornstar.’
“It got to the point that a while back I had to tell boys that asked for my Snapchat that I do not want any unsolicited pictures and they’d only take this as a challenge because no does not mean no.”
Not only was the harassment greater online, over a quarter of girls (28%) reported that they felt less safe going outside during the lockdown period. 40% of these girls felt unsafe walking alone in public and a further 31% felt unsafe going to the shop alone. 33% of these girls stopped going outside at some point during lockdown.
Bethany Moore, QUB’ Student Welfare Officer and women’s rights activist, believes that the correct way to tackle sexual harassment is through adequate sex education.
“I think in general there’s a lack of education surrounding these things. We’re not providing proper sex education. We’re not talking about consent in schools. We’re not talking about the impact that street and sexual harassment has on predominantly women or LGBT people.”
Of the girls who felt unsafe going outside during the lockdown period, over half of them (52%) said it was because there was fewer people around to help them if something happened to them. One third (31%) said that they felt the police were too busy with other priorities during the coronavirus crisis.
Elaine Crory, one of the founding members of Raise Your Voice NI asserted that challenging and changing the cultural mindset surrounding harassment is key to dismantling it.
“Our society has done a really poor job of socialising us – both men and women. Women are socialised to be quiet about this kind of stuff and men are socialised to let their mates get away with it or participate in it themselves. What we need to change is how we’ve socialised people to take part in this stuff or accept it. We need to be proactive and call it out and realise that whilst sexual harassment has been so normalised, none of this is normal and none of it is okay.”