Women say reporting sexual harassment is 'pointless'

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Today, ActionAid reveals that more than two thirds of women (68%) who have been sexually harassed globally have not officially reported it to the police, with half of those (50%) saying it was because they believed it ‘would be pointless’, rising to 62 per cent in the UK.

The YouGov online poll of over 2,500 women from Brazil, the UK, India and South Africa was commissioned by ActionAid ahead of International Women’s Day to launch
#MyBodyIsMine, a call to shine a spotlight on violence against women and girls and seek justice for survivors.

The #MeToo movement has seen millions of women across the world sharing their experiences of sexual harassment, but the research suggests that this isn’t being reflected in legal action against perpetrators. In Brazil two thirds of women (64%) surveyed said they had experienced sexual harassment, alongside nearly half (46%) of women in the UK, 43 per cent in South Africa and 41 per cent in India. Nearly nine out of ten (86%) of those experiences are going unreported in Brazil, 69 per cent in the UK, 73 per cent in South Africa and 49 per cent in India.

Globally, women said that a main reason for not reporting their experiences was that it ‘would be pointless’ (50%), followed by feeling ashamed or guilty (29%), being worried about retaliation from the person who harassed them (28%), thinking that the legal system wouldn’t< be understanding enough (28%) or that they didn’t know how to report it (26%).

Girish Menon, ActionAid Chief Executive said: “These survey results shows that women around the world are experiencing sexual harassment on a shocking scale. The fact that women believe it is pointless to report these experiences is a worrying reflection of the system of power and patriarchy we live in.”

Women’s reasons for not reporting vary from country to country:

  • Nearly two thirds of women in the UK (62%) said it was because it would be ‘pointless to report it’, compared to Brazil (50%), India (41%) and South Africa (48%).
  • More than a third of women in Brazil (36%) felt ashamed or guilty, 28% said the same in India and 27% in South Africa, compared to 19% in the UK.
  • 1% of women in the UK said they were worried about the impact on their reputation within their social circle or local community, compared to 28% in India, 21% in Brazil and 20% in South Africa.
  • More than a fifth of women in India felt they wouldn’t be supported by family and friends (23%), compared with 19% in South Africa and 15% in Brazil, compared to 9% in the UK.

Understanding of legal rights is a much bigger problem in the UK than in other countries surveyed. Nearly a third (31%) of British women said they didn’t understand their legal rights when it came to sexual harassment, virtually double the number of women in South Africa (16%) or India (19%), alongside 22 per cent in Brazil.

Girish Menon, chief executive of ActionAid, continued: “Pervasive harassment, and violence against women happens because of deep-rooted gender inequality, which sees women as worth less, and teaches men that they are entitled to women’s bodies.

“ActionAid works in countries worldwide to tackle violence against women and girls in all of its forms including rape, FGM and child marriage. We support local women’s groups who are leading the way in stopping women and girls from being abused, making sure survivors understand their rights and have the backing of the law.

“So please join #MyBodyisMine today to shine a spotlight on violence against women and girls and seek justice for survivors.”

The research also shows a worrying disparity between generations, particularly within the UK where nearly half (46%) of 18-24-year olds say they don’t understand their legal rights when it comes to sexual harassment well, compared to 31 per cent of women overall. These generational differences are similar in Brazil with 28% of women aged 18-24 saying that they don’t understand their legal rights, compared to 22% overall.

ActionAid Ambassador Emma Thompson, who has travelled with ActionAid seven time to see their work tackling violence against women and girls, said: “If there was a message, a sort of mind vaccine, I could give to all girls around the world it would be this:  This is my body and it belongs to no-one else, it’s mine.  I am my own property. I am myself. I have jurisdiction over my body and no-one can take that away from me under any circumstances without my consent. Property of me. That’s my message, so share #MyBodyIsMine today.”

Globally women highlighted education on women’s rights as key to making progress on tackling sexual harassment against women, with 69 per cent saying that children being educated on the issue from a young age was important. Many (64%) said that more should be done to ensure that women who report sexual harassment are not made to feel as though it’s their fault, and 62 per cent said women need to have a better understanding of what their legal rights are.

Please visit ActionAidUK's IWD page to find out more.

To find out more information or for interview requests please contact Leona.Everitt@actionaid.org on 07966 134226 and/or Claire.Wilkinson@actionaid.org on 0203 122 0545

Notes to Editors:

1.    Actor Andrea Riseborough, Pearl Mackie and Kiran Sonia Sawar, Muse model and body positive ambassador Charli Howard and England National Netball team players Sasha and Kadeen Corbin all also took part in an exclusive photoshoot for ActionAid for #MyBodyIsMine. Images available https://stories.actionaid.org/?c=49333&k=959c83a81a  

2.    All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2665 women in the UK, South Africa, Brazil and India. Fieldwork was undertaken between 1st and 12th of February 2018. The survey was carried out online. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been given an even weighting (nat rep) for each country to produce an ‘average’ value.

3.    Sexual harassment in this press release and for the survey is defined as ‘any aggressive, threatening or unwanted actions intentionally made against a person. This could be verbal, physical, sexual or emotional abuse.”

4.    ActionAid is a not-for-profit international charity, working with women and girls in 45 countries around the world.