Plan International and Monash University in Australia used crowd mapping technology to allow girls and women in 5 major cities to anonymously record incidents of street harassment, from cat-calling to stalking, threatening behaviour and physical and sexual assault, via its Safer Cities Free to Be project.
In 2018, young women and girls dropped 14,500 pins on maps denoting incidents or ‘bad’ places in Sydney, Madrid, Lima, Kampala and Delhi. Of those incidents, 1,270 were reported to authorities, but of those, 67% (852) reports were not acted upon.
When researchers looked at entries with a specific comment detailing the incident, only 124 of the 733 (or 16%) of incidents reported to authorities were acted upon.
Girls widely ignored
When it came to incidents of a sexual nature (as opposed to street harassment generally), the response rate from authorities in Delhi was the lowest of all cities (2% of reports of sexual harassment were acted upon), followed by Lima (16%), Kampala (18%), Madrid (32%) and Sydney (34%).
Of the girls and young women who did report, the majority of the responses from authorities ranged from belittling, disbelief and dismissal, to further harassment from authorities themselves and a complete lack of justice, resulting in frustration and a lack of trust in the system.
most of the time when girls report they are not taken seriously and the system is not set up to support them.
Plan International CEO Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen said this report provides extremely valuable insight into why reporting rates are so low.
“Authorities need to pay attention to what’s happening here,
“It takes a lot of courage to report harassment, but it’s clear that most of the time when girls report they are not taken seriously and the system is not set up to support them. Too many of these reports just fall into the cracks.
“For too long women and girls everywhere have endured harassment as a normal part of their daily lives. They internalise it and over time, it begins to have a serious impact on their well-being. Girls and young women in our research told us loud and clear that when authorities fail to respond with the support and services they need, it can be extremely damaging and harrowing for them.
“Trivialising or ignoring these experiences reinforces the belief that reporting is just not worth it and that girls and young women will not be taken seriously. This leads to an internalisation of stigma and shame and props up a toxic culture where street harassment is normalised.
Systems must change
“Our messages is that every single report needs to be taken seriously and systems need to change to ensure there’s a clear process for reporting. Unless and until this happens, the cycle of underreporting, internalisation and social acceptance of street harassment will continue.”
Dr Nicole Kalms from Monash University’s XYX Lab in Australia led the analysis.
“As this draws on the direct experiences of women and young girls, the findings give a solid base from which we can start to understand how authority responses are a barrier to reporting - whether those barriers are victim-blaming, fear that they won't be believed or perceived lack of seriousness of the offence,” Dr Kalms said.
“Policy makers, city stakeholders and governments can use this data to develop awareness campaigns and better reporting systems which can positively shape women’s experiences in cities internationally.”
Time for actionᐧ
Plan International is calling for the following actions to improve reporting outcomes for girls and young women:
- Authorities must invest in gender-sensitive education and training on street harassment and how to respond.
- Reporting systems must be clear and simple, have the option for anonymity and all reports must be taken seriously and treated with respect, regardless of the perceived severity of the incident.
- The introduction of a 24-hour sexual harassment reporting hotline or app.
- Public awareness campaigns to encourage reporting of all forms of street harassment: even if they are not deemed
- Governments should review current legislation to ensure perpetrators of street harassment are held accountable.
- Widespread education campaigns that make it clear harassment will not be tolerated and that women and girls should report, in addition to bystander campaigns to prevent the behaviour from occurring.