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New report finds alarming levels of harassment and abuse of women

Girls and young women are constantly dealing with harassment and abuse in major cities across the world – to the point that they have resigned themselves to the fact that this is normal and there is nothing to be done

From public masturbation to catcalls, a new report has found that women are suffering from relentless harassment and abuse in cities around the world.

Plan International’s ‘Unsafe in the City’ report had more than 21,200 women living in Delhi, Kampala, Lima, Madrid and Sydney anonymously locate on a map the places that they felt unsafe, abused and targeted by men and boys.

On top of providing a previously unseen glimpse into the impact of harassment and abuse on young women and girls, the report highlighted that this behaviour is often condoned by society and found a pattern of distrust in authorities to act.

CEO of Plan International Australia, Susanne Legana, said: “The level of danger girls are facing in cities is shocking and we all have a role to play in ensuring everybody feels safe in our cities – whether they’re on the street, on public transport or in parks.”

Sexual harassment and abuse in Delhi, Madrid, Lima and Kampala

The research was carried out with an online, interactive mapping tool where women marked a location with either a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ pin. It was developed in partnership with Monash University and Melbourne digital consultancy, CrowdSpot.

Across the studied areas, the number of ‘bad’ pins dropped where girls and women felt most unsafe or uncomfortable greatly outweighed the ‘good’. Out of the 9,292 comments anonymously left, the negative ones also outweighed the positive.

In all five cities it was found that girls and young women have made changes to their behaviour in order to avoid abuse and harassment. The report called for a look into the sexist behaviour that exists among some boys and men and suggests that women should be included in the design of infrastructure and the services that protect them.

Legana said that this constant harassment and abuse is “frightening and draining” and added that it leaves young women feeling disempowered: “This inaction leads many young girls and young women to blame themselves for abuse and harassment.”

“What’s more, by forcing girls and women to constantly adjust their behaviour to stay safe, society is denying them the benefits and opportunities of city life. Their access to work and study opportunities, and their ability to enjoy city life, is restricted.”

Sexual harassment and abuse in Sydney

In Sydney specifically, two-thirds of the incidents reported in the survey included sexual harassment of some kind and 90 per cent said they felt unsafe after dark. Nearly half of those recording bad incidents now avoid those areas if alone.

Less than one in 10 incidents were reported to authorities and in two-thirds of the cases, girls and young women said that the authorities did not take any action. For more than a third of the pins, young women were resigned to the fact that this was so frequent they were used to it. Consequently, they changed their behaviours.

Director of Monash University’s XYX Lab, which specialises in gender-sensitive design practice and theory, Dr Nicole Kalms said: “Across five cities, the safety concerns of these young women are frighteningly similar, with the prevalence of sexual harassment in particular standing out.”

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