Quarter of young women feel unsafe exercising alone during lockdown, survey finds

30 April 2020, 10:15

A of girls surveyed said they have stopped going outside during the lockdown
A third of girls surveyed said they have stopped going outside during the lockdown. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Girls are too afraid to venture out alone during the lockdown after many claimed they were groped and flashed while on the streets, a survey has found.

The poll by charity Pan International found around one in five girls say they have experienced harassment during the coronavirus lockdown.

Around a fifth of the thousand girls and young women surveyed said they have experienced harassment including being catcalled, followed, groped, flashed and upskirted.

All of those surveyed were aged between 14 and 21 and were surveyed online between April 9 and 20.

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Eighty-six reported unwanted attention such as insults or staring, and 56 said they had received unwanted sexual attention such as wolf-whistling and staring.

Forty-seven respondents reported unwanted sexual or physical contact or sexual exposure, while seven girls had photographs taken underneath their skirts.

Overall, 28 per cent, 287, said they feel less safe outside during the lockdown period.

Of these, 40 per cent said they feel unsafe walking alone in public, a third (33 per cent) said they have stopped going outside during the lockdown and 30 per cent said they do not feel safe to go to the shops alone.

A quarter said they feel unsafe exercising outside alone.

Rose Caldwell, Plan International UK chief executive, said: "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.

"Girls are still getting catcalled and harassed when they venture outside for their daily exercise, for essentials or even to work - so much so that some do not feel safe walking alone outside at all. And it's making them feel ashamed, angry and frightened.

"Girls' voices must be heard so we can meet their needs in this lockdown and beyond, but many currently don't feel able to tell anyone that they feel unsafe and unable to walk the streets they live in."

Atlanta, a key worker from Manchester, said she has received inappropriate comments from customers such as being told her boyfriend "must be a lucky man".

The 18-year-old said: "I've also never really felt safe doing exercise outside, and during lockdown I've noticed that male gaze more.

"I was out running by a road recently and a van honked at me, then a cyclist cycled past and kept turning his head back to look at me.

"If anything had happened, the nearest place open was a supermarket, but it was still a long walk away. It makes me feel uncomfortable running on my own and I won't be going down that road again."

Gemma and Maya Tutton, sisters who launched a campaign to end public sexual harassment in April 2019, said "we all deserve to feel safe and be safe in public space".

They said: "We welcome Plan UK's research on the harassment of young girls in lockdown.

"It reflects and reinforces a lot of the testimonies we've received here at Our Streets Now over this time, that public sexual harassment has not only continued but actually worsened under lockdown.

"Girls tell us of feeling unsafe, afraid and of limiting their time outdoors because of this harassment.

"The UK government must act against this form of gender-based violence and introduce a specific criminal offence tackling public sexual harassment."