Most UK women have suffered sexual harassment and lost faith that abuse will be dealt with, claims new study

This includes women who have been groped, followed and coerced into sexual activity

Joanna Whitehead
Wednesday 10 March 2021 12:22 GMT
UN Women UK are calling for safe spaces now

The majority of young women in the UK have suffered sexual harassment and lost faith that such abuse will be dealt with, according to a new survey.

YouGov polled more than 1,000 women aged between 18-24 on behalf of UN Women UK and found that 97 per cent said they had been sexually harassed, while 80 per cent reported experiencing sexual harassment in public spaces.

Of these, only four per cent said they had reported the harassment to an official body, with 45 per cent admitting that they didn’t believe reporting would help change anything.

This includes women who had been groped, followed and coerced into sexual activity.

As part of the organisation’s Safe Spaces Now project, UN Women UK have collected stories from 400 women and sent an open letter to leaders calling on them to improve reporting systems, education and public spaces.

Claire Barnett, executive director of UN Women UK said: “We are looking at a situation where younger women are constantly modifying their behaviour in an attempt to avoid being objectified or attacked, and older women are reporting serious concerns about personal safety if they ever leave the house in the dark – even during the daytime in winter.”

She added that while the UK often perceives itself as “a leading light in terms of progress”, gender-based violence continues to happen to women and marginalised groups every day.

“This is a human rights crisis,” she said.

“It’s just not enough for us to keep saying ‘this is too difficult a problem for us to solve’ – it needs addressing now.”

The news follows research published by the American Psychological Association in January which revealed that women who are less stereotypically feminine are less likely to have their allegations believed.

Cheryl Kaiser, one of the study’s authors said: “Our research found that a claim was deemed less credible and sexual harassment was perceived to be less psychologically harmful when it targeted a victim who was less attractive or did not act according to the stereotype of a typical woman.

“Sexual harassment is pervasive and causes significant harm, yet far too many women cannot access fairness, justice and legal protection, leaving them susceptible to further victimisation and harm within the legal system,” she said.

And in September, researchers at the University of Stockholm found that employees who suffer sexual harassment at work have a higher risk of death by suicide.

The report, which was published in The BMJ, suggests sexual harassment in the workplace needs to be deemed a substantial public health issue and an “occupational hazard”.

“We believe no workplace can be considered safe unless it is free of harassment, and this issue cannot be sidelined any longer,” the authors said in a statement.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in