There’s no doubt that almost all women have experienced street harassment at some point in their lives. Whether that be a wolf-whistle, a ‘morning sexy’ or a much more serious physical assault.
Last year, Vicky Simister, 26, started the Anti-Street Harassment Campaign UK after she was involved in an incident which turned nasty. After being heckled by a car full of men, Simister retaliated which then lead to her being physically assaulted. After taking her statement, the police implied that she had brought the attack upon herself and that the men were simply complimenting her.
“While living in London for a year I was tailed by cars and had comments made about me on a daily basis, I was also assaulted a couple of times,” explains Simister, “A lot of people think it’s acceptable or just ignore it.”
Since launching the campaign, Simister has been behind a number of events including a ‘SlutWalk’ in London which rallied 5,000 supporters and an abseiling event in Leeds. She has received huge support from women across the country and now has backing from a number of MPs including Diane Abbott and former London mayor Ken Livingstone.
However, this campaign is not the first of its kind. Over recent years many websites such as Hollaback! have been launched to tackle the issue of street harassment. It allows women to share their experiences and learn how they too can campaign against such a culturally accepted form of harassment.
Bloggers at ihollaback.org explain why it’s such an important issue: “Street harassment is one of the most pervasive forms of gender-based violence and one of the least legislated against. Comments from ‘You’d look good on me’ to groping, flashing and assault are a daily global reality for women.”
Yet this hot topic has caused a massive debate among the public as to whether it’s harassment or just ‘a laugh’.
James Hancock, 20, thinks: “I don’t think it’s acceptable, it’s not just ‘banter’ because it’s not with someone you know, it’s just a random person on the street.”
Some women see it as a compliment that gives them a confidence boost, thinks sales advisor Emma Weaver: “I like it when you get wolf-whistled, it makes you feel good about yourself, it’s just a compliment at the end of the day and everyone loves a compliment.”
And even with all the recent media attention some people are still not aware of street harassment. University of Lincoln student Linford Brett says: “That actually happens? I didn’t realise it was that bad.”
Girls as young as 12 have also been affected by verbal and physical assaults. Olivia* was verbally assaulted last summer when a middle-aged man wolf-whistled numerous times before shouting ‘sexy bitch’ as she walked past a shop doorway. She was only 13 at the time.
“I felt my self start to tear up and I couldn’t stop shaking, it was the first time it had happened to me and I remember thinking it was my own fault for wearing short-shorts,” Said Olivia*.
“I now know that my shorts or my legs shouldn’t mean that someone can violate me or make me feel ashamed, I’m now 15 and I still get shouted at all the time. I’ve just learnt to ignore it.”
Street harassment is not always classed as a serious offence yet it can be mentally harmful for the victim. For Vicky Simister and campaigners across the country there is still a lot of work to do before it becomes culturally and lawfully unacceptable.
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