By Maisie Allen
"Our world is used to not holding perpetrators of gender-based violence accountable for their actions."
“It’s a compliment."
“Why are you taking it so seriously?”
“Don’t let it bother you so much, it happens to everyone."
All of the above are phrases routinely used to justify public sexual harassment, that is usually unwanted attention of a sexual nature that manifests itself in both verbal and physical abuse. Often downplayed as a normalised part of the journey of adolescent sexuality, especially if you’re a girl, public sexual harassment hints at a more sinister existence of the unequal power relations between the genders.
A recent survey from Plan International UK found that 51% of girls in the UK had experienced public sexual harassment since June 2020, and from the same survey, 80% of parents were worried that their daughter would experience public sexual harassment. Surely, if this problem is so prevalent, why are we so hesitant to call people out for this kind of behaviour? The long-standing cultural narrative of ‘boys will be boys’ is outdated and is no excuse for behaviour that makes so many girls, women, and non-binary people feel unsafe in public spaces.
One of the most worrying aspects of public sexual harassment is that it seems to start at an extremely young age, with many girls reporting that they receive regular unwanted sexual attention whilst wearing school uniform. This feeds into the collective societal fetishisation of young girls and the hypersexualisation of their school uniforms, creating a sense of entitlement towards schoolgirls and their bodies that is inherently problematic and grotesque and one that makes these girls feel constantly vulnerable even when they’re supposed to be in a safe environment.