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  • Writer's pictureFarah Benis

Public Sexual Harassment: Understanding the Issue and its Impacts

Public sexual harassment is a pervasive problem affecting people of all genders and ages. It is a form of gender-based violence that takes place in public spaces, such as on the street, on public transportation, or in public parks. The consequences of public sexual harassment can be significant, including fear, anxiety, and a loss of trust in public spaces. In this article, we will examine the issue of public sexual harassment, its effects, and what can be done to address it.

Understanding Public Sexual Harassment

Public sexual harassment can take many forms, including verbal harassment, physical harassment, and sexual assault. It can range from catcalling, whistling, or leering to unwanted touching or grabbing. It can also include sexually explicit comments, gestures, or exposure. The common denominator is that it is unwanted, non-consensual, and occurs in a public space.

The extent of public sexual harassment is difficult to quantify, as it is often underreported. However, studies have found that it is a widespread issue affecting people of all genders and ages. A large-scale study of street harassment in the UK found that 71% of women have experienced sexual harassment in public and this rose to 86% in women 18 - 24 years old.

The Effects of Public Sexual Harassment

Public sexual harassment can have severe psychological effects on its victims, including anxiety, fear, and a loss of trust in public spaces. For women and other marginalized groups, public sexual harassment can serve to reinforce gender-based power imbalances and contribute to a culture of gender-based violence. It can also have a chilling effect on victims' freedom of movement and ability to participate fully in public life. In a survey done via Catcalls of London 78% of women responded to feeling unsafe in public spaces and only 4% said someone had intervened.

What Can Be Done to Address Public Sexual Harassment

Addressing public sexual harassment requires a multi-faceted approach involving individuals, communities, and the state.

  • Individuals can play a role by speaking out against public sexual harassment and supporting survivors.

  • Bystanders can intervene in situations of public sexual harassment to create a sense of community accountability and make it clear that such behaviour is not acceptable.

  • Communities can work to create safe public spaces by organising against public sexual harassment and advocating for change. This can involve creating safe spaces, developing educational programs, and promoting media campaigns to raise awareness about the issue.

  • The government has a role to play in addressing public sexual harassment. This can involve implementing laws and policies that protect against public sexual harassment, enforcing these laws, and providing resources and support for survivors.

Public sexual harassment is a serious issue with far-reaching effects. Addressing it requires a collective effort from individuals, communities, and the government. By speaking out against public sexual harassment, creating safe public spaces, and advocating for change, we can work towards a world where everyone can feel safe and respected in public spaces.


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