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Charity exposes shocking scale of sexual harrasment targeted at girls

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Young girls are suffering unacceptable levels of harrasment

New research published by Girlguiding has exposed the shocking scale of sexual harassment experienced by girls and young women both in public and at school.

The research comes only a week after Ofsted’s damming report into the high levels of sexual harassment of young people in school, with girls particularly affected.

The poll of over 420 girls and young women aged 13 to 18 found the vast majority (80%) don’t feel safe when they go outside on their own. Many are regularly confronted with unwanted attention, including whistling and sexual comments when they do.

Girlguiding Scotland is calling for Education Scotland to conduct a similar investigation. The charity wants to see this as a top priority after it was announced last week that the regulatory body in Scotland would be subject to reform.

Three in ten (29%) girls and young women revealed they first experienced sexual harassment when they were just 11 to 13 years old, with 5% saying they were younger than ten-years-old.

Angela Salt, Girlguiding CEO said: “The scale of sexual harassment that girls and young women experience as shown in Girlguiding’s research is appalling. This needs to change. Girls and young women have a right to feel and be safe at all times of the day and night.

“Girlguiding is calling for the culture of harassment to be recognised and tackled wherever it occurs. The burden mustn’t fall on girls and young women to have to change this on their own.”  

Girlguiding Advocate Henrietta, 16, said, “School should be a safe space where I and other girls can thrive. Yet I think I speak for all girls when I say that I’m fed up - of the culture and dismissal of our experiences, and of the relentless barrage of abuse and harassment we endure both at school and in public. Not a day goes by when I don’t hear boys making sexual jokes or hear of friend’s experiences of sexual harassment.

“Attitudes and culture must change if we are to get to the root of the problem and stop damaging girls’ wellbeing, confidence and self-esteem. Education and a change in the portrayal of women in the media are key, as is criminalising street harassment.” 

The research revealed girls and young women want schools and the government to take sexual harassment more seriously, with 65% wanting a zero-tolerance approach in schools, and 63% wanting better education for everyone about consent and acceptable behaviours. Over half (55%) of girls said they want public sexual harassment to be made a crime.  

Two in five (41%) girls aged 13 to 16 and 66% aged 17 and 18 also want to see an improvement to how women are portrayed in the media such as not being so sexualised or objectified.   

The research also shows that 57% of all girls and young women believe that reporting sexual harassment should be made easier. Only 35% said they’d know who to talk to if they experienced sexual harassment, and just 27% said they’d feel confident to report it.  

Despite the scale of sexual harassment experienced by girls, only 7% aged 13 and 14, 11% aged 15 and 16, and 22% aged 17 and 18 had ever reported it to their school or the police. Of those that had reported sexual harassment, 37% felt happy about the action that was taken, whilst 56% felt unhappy.    

In 2015 Girlguiding campaigned to see sexual harassment in schools addressed, helping to show the extent of the issue and calling for new guidance. In Scotland, young members gave evidence to the to The Equalities and Human Rights Committee review of the National Anti-Bullying Strategy in 2017. While it welcomed the recommendations, which included better recording of incidents involving sexual harassment and gender harassment in schools, it’s clear more action needs to be taken to ensure a zero-tolerance approach.

The charity now sits on the Scottish Government’s Gender Equality Taskforce in Education and Learning which is due to consider this issue further.



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