You've probably heard about the 97% statistic, but sexual harassment is more than just statistics and facts. It is the constant worry, stress and fear we feel when walking home alone. It is the fact that we cannot go out if it is dark. The fact that we must wear clothes hiding our bodies because men can’t control themselves. The fact that we just have to ignore the boys shouting sexualised comments from across the street because “boys will be boys”. And it’s all your fault for wearing a short skirt.
The sad reality is, that the majority of us know what it feels like when someone shouts or stares at you in a way which they should not, but it is accepted, normalised, and thought of as okay. The sad reality is that behind all the statistics, many girls just don't feel safe walking down the road alone.
An investigation by UN Women UK found that 97% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed. Almost every young woman in the UK has experienced sexual harassment, yet we are not taught self-defence or how to deal with these situations. Instead we are afraid to speak up due to the fear of being shamed, called a “liar” or no change happening. 97% appears impossibly high to those who have grown up without the experience of sexual harassment as a part of their existence, but living in London as a young girl this statistic, unfortunately, makes sense.
“Do not go out when it's dark, message a parent when you leave school, carry your keys and alarm just in case, wear your jumper and roll down your skirt. If someone is following you, cross the street or go into a shop, don’t go into an elevator with just you and a man, cover up."
Girls are told these things from a young age in order to “protect them”, but we are not fighting the root of the problem by telling girls how to reduce their chances of being assaulted. It isn’t just telling boys not to harass or assault girls and women. Instead, it is teaching boys how to make girls feel safe when walking down a street, teaching them how to stand up when someone is harassed, teaching them that jokes about assault are not okay. These are things that will start to break down the social norms.
What should we do? Some crucial things needed to create change are: from the age of five, teach in mixed and all boys schools how to treat girls and start to unpick the social norms to stop the normalisation of sexual harassment. As well as this, treat these issues seriously, punish offenders harshly and teach them how to act appropriately and why their actions are unacceptable. We must also teach in schools about assault and harassment (we are almost guaranteed to experience some form of harassment so we should be prepared on what to do and how to defend ourselves). On top of this, we need to create a safe, supportive and caring environment for victims of assault or harassment.
These are things I believe need to be done to create long lasting change. We should feel safe walking down the street. We should be able to wear what we want to wear. We should be able to speak up and talk about our experiences. 97% is not okay. 97% should never be accepted. We have to create the change that is crucially needed to turn the 97% into 0%.