In Britain, nearly all schoolchildren wear uniforms — and a third of girls there say they have been sexually harassed while wearing them, a new survey from Plan International UK finds.
One woman, Ffion, 25, told researchers about the harassment that came her way in high school. “I’ve never experienced harassment like I did then,” she said. “Men would ask if they could take a picture with me in my uniform. It was awful. Before that I used to be walking home, and I was so scared walking home.”
Respondents in the survey reported being catcalled and whistled at. One in seven said they have been followed home while they were in their required attire. Some say men have tried to take pictures up their skirts, leaving them feeling “sexualized and fetishized.”
“I’m not allowed to go out in my uniform any more,” a student named Nyasha, 14, told researchers. “My mum says I look older than I am.”
The study polled 1,000 girls and women ages 14 to 21. Additionally, researchers conducted long-form interviews with young women and academics. Here are some of the study’s most startling findings:
• Children as young as 8 reported being victims of, or witnesses to, harassment.
• Two-thirds of the children questioned in the survey said they have experienced “unwanted sexual attention” in public.
• Thirty-five percent said they have been touched, groped or grabbed without their consent.
• Eight percent of respondents said they have been filmed or photographed by a stranger.
• Many girls said they feel harassment is “all part of growing up.”
Plan International UK has called street harassment a form of “gender-based violence.” It has pushed for a public information campaign to communicate that harassment is not okay, as well as bystander training to teach witnesses how to safely intervene.
“It’s simply not acceptable that girls as young as 12 are being wolf-whistled at in public, touched against their will, stared at or even followed,” Tanya Barron, who runs Plan International UK, told the BBC. “This disgraceful behavior needs to be called out and stopped.”