“Is this guy following me? Are there any other women on this platform?”
These are the thoughts that can run through women’s minds as part of the everyday safety checklist made necessary by the prevalence of sexual harassment in public places.
They are the kind of things 23-year-old youth activist Tahlia Clarke asks herself on a daily basis.
“On transport or if I’m walking home from work, I have to ask myself all of these questions,” she said.
“I go through a checklist pretty much every time I get into a new space.
“If you think about it, that’s a massive red flag — the fact that most women and girls do this without thinking about it.”
In its investigation of sexual harassment in five cities, Plan International gave young women an app through which they mapped public places.
The women mapped 2,000 places, and described three-quarters of those as “bad” due to sexual harassment.
The other cities included in the sample were Delhi in India, Kampala in Uganda, Lima in Peru, and Madrid in Spain.
Many woman who had been harassed said their first experience of harassment was when they were younger than 15.
Plan International Australia’s chief executive, Susanne Legena, told AM it was the same in all the cities they studied.
“Regardless of the country, there is just such a high rate of experience of street harassment — of being groped, leered at, catcalled, touched, having people physically expose themselves to you,” she said.
“Basically putting up with crap and street harassment every day is a normal part of being a young woman.”
Ms Legena said the interactive crowdsourced mapping tool allowed Plan International to collect data that was not reported in crime statistics, but was the lived experience of young women in Australia.
She said as more people moved to cities from rural areas, the importance of women’s safety in public needed to be addressed.
“The UN estimates that there will be billions of people, including millions of young women, living in cities by 2030,” she said.
“So working out a way to create safe cities is really, really important.
“No woman I know has been shocked by these results, but talking to my husband — all the men in our office, any male stakeholders that we talk to where we’re sharing the results of the report — they’re horrified.
“They don’t live this experience, so they don’t see it.”
How safe do young women feel in Sydney?
A survey conducted by Plan International found:
- 90 per cent said they sometimes or always felt unsafe in the city at night
- 92 per cent felt uncomfortable taking public transport alone at night
- Half (49 per cent) had experienced street harassment
- Two-thirds (66 per cent) agreed street harassment was commonly experienced by young women in Sydney
A total of 452 women aged 18-25 were interviewed in Sydney in early April, 2018.
Ms Legena said the results of Plan’s investigation portrayed an unrelenting sense of never being left alone, and that many girls’ first experience of womanhood was one of negotiating street harassment.
She said this was likely to have ongoing effects on the women who experience unwanted attention.
“What girls told us is that they modified their behaviour,” she said.
“Half of those recording bad incidents now avoid that area if they’re alone, and 12 per cent said they’d never go back to that location.
“[Girls and women] just want to be able to move freely around like their brothers can, like their male friends can, like their boyfriends can.”
Tahlia Clarke said she was determined to create change.
“I think that a lot of women and girls are starting to get empowered to speak up, talk about their stories,” she said.
“All of these things actually build up and really do impact women’s and girls’ wellbeing and how they respond in day-to-day life.
“We should be able to go out into spaces without having to think about what we wear, or if our phone battery’s charged, or if we’re going to miss the tram, who can pick us up.
“It should just be a thing that naturally we are able to accomplish.”