Sexual harassment is biggest city danger for girls across the globe

2 OCTOBER 2018

Sexual harassment is the number one safety risk facing girls and young women across the world, according to a survey of global experts in 22 cities released today. The survey is the first of its kind to examine the safety risks facing girls and young women in so many different cities across the world. 

The survey found that 78% of experts across the 22 cities described sexual harassment as an extremely high or high risk for girls and young women in their city and 77% said that, in their opinion, it occurs either very or fairly often in public.

Sexual harassment goes largely unreported

Almost 400 experts across six continents took part in the online perception-based survey. The specialists were drawn from the fields of women’s rights, children’s rights and urban safety. Of those experts, 60% said sexual harassment in their city is never or hardly ever reported to the authorities.

I have been assaulted several times

Sexual violence was also believed to be worryingly prevalent in cities across the world, with 57% of experts describing it as an extremely high or high risk for girls and young women in their city. Almost half (47%) said it occurs either very or fairly often in public. Over a third (35%) said it was never or hardly ever reported to the authorities.

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International, said “Cities offer enormous opportunities for girls and young women but as this pioneering research shows, they are also incredibly dangerous places which can have lifechanging consequences for them.”

“Cities in developing countries are growing at an unprecedented rate. By 2030, millions of girls will live in urban areas. We must act now or we’re at risk of denying an entire generation of girls their right to learn, earn and play an active role in society.”

Invaluable insight into girls’ safety

The poll was conducted from 30 May to 14 August and has been validated by the expert polling consultancy ComRes. 

Oliver Wright, Managing Director at ComRes, said “This survey is an exciting and original piece of work using a methodology which has effectively captured the perceptions of experts into girls’ safety in cities, producing valuable insight into the safety challenges facing girls globally.”

While many cities are safe for girls to be out on their own or on public transport during the day, around half of experts said it was either extremely unsafe or unsafe for girls to go out on their own or use public transport at night.

More than two-thirds (69%) of the experts surveyed said girls and young women modify their behaviour always or most of the time in response to dangers in their city. Many others made it clear that girls and young women never or hardly ever participate in decision making about safety in their city and never or hardly ever have their views taken on board in local policies and planning about safety.

More than half of the experts (53%) said that support systems for girls affected by sexual harassment or violence either do not exist, are not at all effective or are, at best, slightly effective.

City-specific findings: 

  • When experts were asked to rate the risk of sexual harassment in their city, Bogota and Johannesburg emerged as the most unsafe cities, while Stockholm came out best.
  • Johannesburg emerged as the most dangerous city for sexual violence and also theft and robbery, while Hanoi and Tokyo were seen as the safest for these particular dangers.
  • When asked to rate how safe their city was for girls to go out alone or use public transport, Lima came out as the most dangerous city, while Stockholm was the safest. 
  • Kampala was seen as the city where girls were most at risk of kidnap and murder.

Faridah, 19, a mother of two who takes part in Plan International’s Safer Cities for Girls programme in Kampala, has personal experience of the dangers girls face on the city’s streets.

“When it’s night here, girls are not safe,” she said. “I’ve been assaulted several times and a year ago when I was pregnant I was walking in the street with a friend when she was raped and killed by a gang of drug dealers.”

Victims made to feel guilty for their own harassment

The survey captured powerful solutions from experts as to how their city could be made safer for girls and young women.

Violence against girls and women is a daily occurrence

Sao Paulo survey participant Luciana Temer, director of the Liberta Institute, an organisation which works to combat child sexual exploitation in Brazil, said her city urgently needs to change its culture of blaming girls who are victims of violence.

“Violence against girls and women is a daily occurrence,” she said. “Girls who are victims are made to feel guilty. It is a cultural issue so strong in the society that it becomes invisible. We urgently need to address this.”

Another expert, located in Dublin, said of their city “There needs to be a culture change so that girls and young women feel comfortable reporting incidents of harassment and violence and so they feel confident that their reports will have consequences.”

The results were based on a minimum of 15 experts in each city. Respondents included NGO professionals, academics, healthcare and social workers, civil servants and government representatives, social commentators and activists and representatives from international organisations and think tanks.