Worried parents are asking their daughters not to go out after dark, as research suggests half of young women and girls were harassed on Britain’s streets during the summer.
Street harassment has plagued women and girls during the coronavirus pandemic, according to polling by girls’ rights organisations.
A fifth (19%) experienced harassment during the spring lockdown, including being catcalled, followed, groped, flashed and upskirted.
This rose to 51% over the summer, the children’s charity Plan International and the campaign Our Streets Now said.
The groups are calling for the public sexual harassment of girls to be made a specific criminal offence, in recognition that this is “a crime, not a compliment”.
The organisations polled 1,000 parents of girls aged between 14 and 21, and 1,010 girls in this age group, between September 23 and October 1.
The poll found that a third of parents (32%) have been told by their daughters that they have experienced street harassment.
But three-quarters of girls (76%) did not report the behaviour to the police.
Of the parents surveyed, 80% worry their daughter will experience public sexual harassment during her lifetime, and one in 10 is worried that their daughters younger than 11 will be targeted.
Four in 10 parents said they have asked their daughters not to go out after dark, go to certain places or take certain routes, while two-thirds have instructed them not to walk home alone after a certain time.
But, amid widespread concern, a third (37%) of parents would not know where to report street harassment of their daughters, and 70% of parents whose daughters have experienced it did not report it to the police.
Tean, 14, was shouted and gestured at by a group of men while walking in her uniform to school in Cornwall.
She said: “I didn’t report the incident to the police because I don’t really know how to, and even if I did, I wasn’t confident that they would take me seriously, or be able to do anything about it.”
The campaigners are calling for a clear law that criminalises all forms of public sexual harassment so that girls can live without fear and are more likely to report cases that do occur.
Half of the girls polled believe a clear law making it a specific crime would help prevent it, and that being able to report harassment by text or online would also help.
And almost three-quarters (72%) said it would make them more likely to report a crime.
Rose Caldwell, chief executive of Plan International UK, said: “Listening to the girls we work with, alongside the experiences of my two teenage daughters have made it all too clear to me, as the pandemic rages on, that public sexual harassment can no longer be ignored.
“This persistent and pervasive harassment of girls across the UK is completely unacceptable, but sadly not surprising. And this is something that affects not only girls, but their families, with parents worrying from a young age about the abuse their daughters face in public.”
Gemma and Maya Tutton, sisters who founded Our Streets Now, said: “We started this campaign because we want to create a society in which harassment is no longer a ‘normal’ part of being a girl.
“Public sexual harassment is a blight on the lives of women and girls in the UK and our research released today shows the urgency with which this problem must be tackled. The glaring holes in UK legislation are the best place to start.”