More than 35 per cent of girls in school uniform have been sexually harassed in public including being groped, stared at, catcalled and wolf-whistled. And one in eight reported being 12 years old or younger when it first happened.
The charity Plan International UK, who provided the figures in the new report, are calling on the government, local authorities and police to recognise street harassment as a form of violence against women and girls.
But while we’re waiting for the law to change, what can parents do to address this problem with their daughters and sons? How should you talk about it in your family and encourage young people to be open about their experiences?
Should we talk about it?
It can seem tempting to ignore the issue because you don’t want to frighten your child or have awkward conversations. But experts say it is essential to have open dialogues about these problems with your children.
Jan Macleod, manager at the Women’s Support Project, tells HuffPost UK you need to be open about sexual harassment. “Parents should tell their daughters what sexual harassment is, and that girls are never to blame for being harassed.”
And it isn’t just girls that need to be included. Macleod says boys need the conversation too. “More importantly they should tell their sons what it is and tell them never to harass girls or women.”
When should you have that first talk?
You might have decided you want the conversation but you’re not sure at what age or how to bring it up with your child.
Jon Brown, head of the NSPCC’s sexual abuse policy says you need to be having simple conversations with your child from as young as the age of four years old.
“Avoid scary words but say that their body belongs to them, and that they can say no if someone tries to touch them,” he said. “Bath-time, walking home from school or in the car are all opportunities to have that first talk.
What should you say?
The Child Mind Institute says you should start by finding out what your child already knows about sexual harassment. “This could be from friends, TV, newspapers, social media.
“At a time when you’re catching up and talking about your day, I’d ask them what they’ve heard in broad terms about, say, men behaving in insulting ways to women, or older men approaching teenage girls – whatever it is they are likely to be hearing. First, you want to listen, to encourage them to tell you what they’ve heard and ask any questions they might have.”
Remember your goal is to give them facts – don’t be salacious but also don’t shirk away from providing details if they ask questions.
You might also want to use any examples from your own experience to make it a more relatable conversation.