The "human rights crisis" facing women

Evie Lake discusses the latest statistics on female sexual harassment

Evie Lake
11th March 2021

Content Warning: this article contains accounts of sexual harassment and violence.

Sexual harassment against women is finally being labelled as a “human rights crisis” after statistics show 97% of 18-24 year olds have had such experiences. On Twitter, the first reply to the Guardian’s exclusive was: “in other news, almost all men in the UK wish they had been sexually harassed.” Familiar? 

“Human rights crisis” is a difficult term to comprehend as sexual harassment is a personal battle. Every woman I know can find their place within that 97%; some are able to make themselves comfortable whilst others can barely find their way. ‘Time heals all’ until it doesn’t; until you’re brought back to the apex because another man chooses to grope you, brush your thigh, lick his lips. Or perhaps something similar happens to your friend, your neighbour, and suddenly you’re not so comfortable anymore. It’s never-ending. You never come back from being a statistic, you’re stuck within the bounds of it for life, waiting for the next time to hit. 

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I’ve been groped in a mosh pit; I’ve been beeped at in my school uniform; I’ve been cornered by a man wanking on a bus. And yet I consider myself lucky. I should be angrier, but we are taught from a young age that we should move on: just drop it. The trauma women share feels restricted to the dark corners of our minds and friendships. It lingers, of course it does, but sexual harassment is so unextraordinary that is sort of just blends into the background. Each occasion contributes to a huge, bleak mosaic. 

The ‘crisis’ lies, of course, with the men who choose to commit such violent acts, but it’s exacerbated by the lack of support. Women are left deprived and tied to their trauma. Last year it was revealed that 99% of rape cases reported in England and Wales resulted in no conviction. 99% and 97%- statistics that couldn’t get much worse and still you would struggle to find a woman who is shocked by such news. This news doesn’t serve women- we’ve lived it- instead this news comes for the men who need reminding, who are able to forget. If you’re floored by this news, you haven’t been paying enough attention. 

In a morbid, chance alignment, the tragic abduction and murder of Sarah Everard has lent an even bigger platform for these statistics, for the 97%. Everard has become a beacon for the learnt behaviours of women, the way we are forced to live our lives from fear of men but that it’s not enough sometimes: you can do everything possible to protect yourself, but all it takes is one man’s decision. Game over. 

The outpouring of stories and demands for change has characterised the discourse that has followed, with the female gaze turning directly to men. We’ve altered our behaviour and now it’s men’s turn to change theirs in order to help women feel safe. Even the act of walking behind a woman, late at night, generates so much fear. Men, if you can, cross the road so you’re not directly behind. If you can’t cross the road, try and keep as much distance as you can between you and her, even if this means walking slower than you usually would. Men, you need to be active, walking slower or changing your route will feel like an inconvenience- maybe you can’t be bothered- but think of the women and the fear that is surging through them. You can no longer push this to the peripheries, only to be reminded whenever a newspaper decides to remind you. You need to absorb a fraction of the burden, you need to be an ally. 

Women, we’ll get through this- we always have. The longer our stories stay within public discourse the louder and clearer we will be heard. So, share your stories, make your voices heard and things will change for the better.

Featured Image: Instagram

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