Understanding the impact of harassment and sexual assault
Challenge female harassment and understand the impact of sexual assault and violence against women
This resource explores the stories of those who have shared their experiences online to inform others of sexual harassment and discrimination and ways that we can be effective allies and supporters of others.
This resource contains stories of sexual harassment that some may find upsetting. The supporting organisations listed at the bottom of this page can offer you more support on this issue.
According to a UN Women report in 2021, 71 per cent of women have received some form of harassment in a public space. In the wake of events such as the murders of Sabina Nessa, Sarah Everard and other women experiencing violence, debate started online as to whether sexual harassment of women was a common problem.
Wider dialogue has begun about gender inequality and how some genders are disproportionally affected by risk and this form of discrimination. For many people this was the first time that they became aware of the fear that has become a daily part of some women’s lives.
Stories of the harassment of women
Exploring people’s stories can be an effective way of understanding more about their perspective. Twitter has become a platform for anyone to interact to discuss news and events and publish their thoughts. Read the tweets below and reflect on the impact these experiences have had on the authors.
I had a conversation about how common street harassment is for women, just a couple of days ago, with some of my friends. My male friends couldn’t believe the stories we shared. Great video by @PlanUK #Isayitsnotok https://t.co/g4FIioE7n0— Fatima Ribeiro (@FatimaRibeiro) April 10, 2019
Consider why these stories may be a surprise for Fatima’s friends.
- Is it important to share stories of challenges people are facing?
- What effect might this have?
Yesterday I wrote a list of a things women and girls do to stay safe, to give to a man trying to help his students understand how women feel. Seeing it all written down has really shocked me, and frankly, some of it is grim. 1/2 #SheWasJustWalkingHome #notallmenbutallwomen pic.twitter.com/ZGCrfOUvQB— SashaWHistory (@SashaWHistory) March 14, 2021
Sasha shared a list of things some women do to stay safe. The list contained over 50 items, some of these are listed below:
- Walking home:
- Carrying your keys in your hand
- Wearing flats/trainers
- No headphones on
- Rushing between streetlights
- Taking the long way round if it’s well lit
- Walking in the middle of the road
- Phone in hand/dialled ready to call
- Fake or real call to a friend
- Big coat to cover up
- Crossing the road if there’s trees/bushes
- Avoiding groups of men
- Walking further than your home and looping back if there’s a man behind you
Consider the ways people might change their behaviour to feel safe when walking home.
- How might this make them feel?
- What could be the impact over time?
- How might we change the conversation, so the emphasis is no longer on women adapting their lives to feel safe?
Disabled people often can’t take a different route home due to #accessibility. We can’t just get in a cab or even on the bus home if the 1 space is used. We often can’t run away or shout for help. We NEED to include #disabled women in these conversations #SarahEverard @ReclaimTS— Hollie-Anne Brooks ♿️ (@HollieAnneB) March 14, 2021
Reflect on which other groups might also feel especially worried.
- Why might this be?
- What other factors might make someone feel more vulnerable?
Some women may be more at risk to harassment or violence. Factors such as race, disability, socioeconomic status, sexuality and immigration status, among others, may increase the likelihood of someone being a victim of sexual or gender-based violence. Transgender women are even more likely to encounter prejudice and face violence and hate crimes.
Years ago pre-satnav driving I was lost, driving slow, looking an address. Saw a person, slowed wound window & started to ask for help. She ran off. Only after did I even realise stupidity🙄. Must've terrified her. Think we still need tips :/— david (@AAunoderry) March 10, 2021
Think about this situation from both perspectives.
- How did David and the other person experience the same situation differently?
- David suggests giving tips to help understand the impact of actions on others, where can he find this information?
How men can become better allies to women
It is likely that we have all witnessed abusive or discriminatory behaviour. It can be challenging to know what to do. Consider the role someone might play to safely help another. This might start by them recognising their own position, what their voice, or experience can add, and what to do to ensure everyone feels safe.
Being humanitarian is at the heart of what the Red Cross Movement stands for. This can mean making choices to safely enable and empower others who need it the most, even in situations that might feel challenging.
The United Nations #HeForShe movement shares some of the ways we can support one another. Their suggestions range from how to appear less threatening to challenging discriminatory behaviour in others. We can help support others effectively by taking some simple steps:
- Don't be a bystander
- Highlight the behaviour rather than challenging the person
- Work together to overcome this challenge
Listening is an important skill that can help us see where someone else is coming from, by listening effectively and believing them we can understand what their unique challenges may be.
Believe women when they tell you their experience. Don’t suggest they’re ‘exaggerating’ or it was ‘all in their heads’.— Rebecca Foote (@becswithspecs) March 12, 2021
Don’t be a bystander, we can all make a difference by doing something positive, even small actions are better than nothing. Feel empowered to safely call out inequality.
Challenge all misogynistic views, all aspects of women being treated unfairly. Support women as equal, and promote this among your male friends, Challenge their views, open conversation with other men.— Laura Nicholls (@_LauraNicholls_) March 11, 2021
Highlight the behaviour rather than challenging the person this can be a way of creating an opportunity to have discussion. Change can start to happen right then and there when you speak up. It can feel difficult to disagree, think of a way that works for you and remember why you are doing it.
Calling out the poor behaviour of their friends is essential. Hard to do but don't just laugh along, in public or in private. E.G. A group of men on a train - one makes a comment to/about a woman - if their friends all laugh along, it amplifies the fear and the shame.— Jennifer Herlihy (@MsH_History) March 14, 2021
Work with people to safely overcome this challenge together. Remember we are not authorities on other people's experiences. Raising and amplifying their voices is more effective and respectful than speaking on their behalf.
Talk to your guy friends. Help them understand. This is not a problem women can solve, men have to do it.— Danielle Muscato (she/her) (@DanielleMuscato) November 26, 2019
Reflect on what you have just read, what might you do to support others?
Kindness is about meaningful human connections created by supporting one another, putting kindness into action is what connects our communities.
Where can you find out more information?
- National Domestic Abuse Helpline (Refuge) 0808 200 0247 www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk
- Galop (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people) 0800 999 5428 www.galop.org.uk
- Live Fear Free helpline (Wales) 0808 80 10 800 www.livefearfree.gov.wales
- Men’s Advice Line 0808 801 0327 www.mensadviceline.org
- Respect phoneline 0808 802 4040 www.respect.org.uk
- Scottish Women's Aid 0131 226 6606 www.scottishwomensaid.org.uk
- Women’s Aid Federation (Northern Ireland) 0800 917 1414 www.womensaidni.org
- Women’s Aid (England) www.womensaid.org.uk