Susanne Legena is the CEO of Plan International Australia, an independent organisation that works to tackle root causes of the injustices facing girls and the most marginalised children. She writes for us as part of International Day of the Girl.
Has this ever happened to you?
You’re heading home after work, running for the train, bus or tram when suddenly, you get chills – there’s a man. Maybe he’s leering at you, catcalling, or pushing up against you in the crowd. Whatever it is, you don’t feel safe.
It’s a disturbing scenario, and if you’ve experienced something similar you’re far from alone. Plan International’s latest research on harassment in cities found it to be extremely common – in fact, one survey found 90 per cent of young women in Sydney don’t feel safe after dark.
Where was the most harassment reported? In busy areas with high foot traffic and congestion, particularly public transport zones. That’s right, many young women go about their daily commute in fear.
“…He was still outside waiting for me.”
While harassment is a well-known issue among women, it’s rarely reported, so we lack the evidence to drive change. Plan International developed our Free To Be research project to gather this data. We worked with Melbourne tech company CrowdSpot to develop an online map and survey that allowed girls and women to report harassment and places where they felt unsafe – as well as how they thought locations could be improved. Researchers from Monash University’s XYX Lab then analysed the data.
Our latest report, Unsafe In The City: Sydney, has shed light on the scale of harassment, including reports concentrated around public transport. Take the following two disturbing experiences.
“A man on the train, started harassing me on how I looked… only to follow me off the platform, pressing his body against me, chasing me down the station and into the shops. Had to hide in the bathroom for a while, as he was still outside waiting for me.”
“My friend was stalked for a month by some guy who said he’d been watching her walk to uni and back. He followed her onto the train, he asked lots of invasive questions, when she ignored him or did not answer, he sat uncomfortably close to her and stared at her for her for train ride. She lost him – but then saw him doing this again to other girls.”
Harassment starts young. More than one third of the women who experienced it were first harassed between the ages of 11 and 15. And most of the reports – over two-thirds or 72 per cent – included sexual harassment of some kind. Fourteen per cent recorded sexual assaults.