#WhenIWas: Women share stories of the first time they were harassed in public

Posted by
Moya Crockett
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The hashtag came off the back of the news that a third of UK girls have been harassed in their school uniform. 

If you’re an adult woman, the recent news that more than one in three girls in the UK has been sexually harassed in public while wearing school uniform is unlikely to have come as a huge surprise. The statistic comes courtesy of a new report by the charity Plan International, which surveyed 1,000 teenagers and young women aged 14 to 21 and carried out interviews with girls and academics.

Two-thirds (66%) of girls who spoke to Plan International said they had experienced unwanted sexual attention or sexual or physical contact in a public place. Girls as young as eight described witnessing or experiencing harassment, and one-quarter of girls said they had been filmed or photographed by a stranger in public without their permission.

The report was greeted – rightly – with widespread horror, although some sections of the media responded in predictably wearisome ways. On his BBC Radio 2 show, Jeremy Vine asked whether “school uniform [is] the problem”, which is enough to make you want to scream into the void until you pass out.

But most women remember vividly the first time we were subjected to unwanted leering from men – often when we were much too young to truly comprehend the meaning of their attention.

As a result, we might be taken aback that so little has changed since we were at school; that British girls are still being sexualised and objectified as they move through the world. But surprised? No. We’re not surprised.

Disturbing numbers of UK girls have been harassed in public while wearing their school uniform 

Determined to emphasise the prosaic nature of Plan International’s findings, women have been taking to Twitter to share their memories of being sexually harassed and assaulted when they were young, using the hashtag #WhenIWas.

The hashtag was launched by the Everyday Sexism Project, and the stories highlight that, for many women, sexual harassment and assault becomes a fact of life far before they’re even close to womanhood.  

In a tweet, the Everyday Sexism Project said they wanted the hashtag to convince people to take Plan International’s report seriously. 

Ahead of International Day of the Girl 2018, we cannot allow girls to be excluded from conversations about sexual harassment. Young women – and men – must be brought into discussions about why sexual harassment is never OK, and educated about how they should respond if they witness or experience it.

And adult men must be made aware that if they sexually harass anyone in public – whether that person is a 30-year-old woman or a 13-year-old girl – they won’t be allowed to get away with it. If that doesn’t happen, nothing will change.

Images: Getty Images