One In Four Sydney Women Harassed Every Month On The Street

"Cat-calling and menacing behavior is not ‘harmless fun’ or ‘a compliment"

What you need to know
  • Plan International survey finds only one in 10 young women always feel safe to go out at night
  • The survey, of 500 young women in Sydney, has a number of shocking results
  • Plan's 'Free To Be' project has received 2500 submissions in Sydney in the past month

One in four Sydney women are harassed on the street at least once a month and just one in ten say they always feel safe in the city after dark.

Those are two of the more shocking statistics from a survey of 500 women by global girls’ rights group Plan International Australia, looking at street harassment in the country's biggest city.

The 'Sexism In The City' report, launched Tuesday, surveyed women aged 18-25 about their experiences in Sydney. One in three women who reported harassment more than once a month in the city -- which ranges from cat-calling or inappropriate comments to touching, physical violence and sexual assault -- said they experienced anxiety or depression as a direct result of that harassment.

Women report being followed, catcalled or assaulted (Getty Images)

"What this report tells us, loud and clear, is that cat-calling and menacing behavior is not ‘harmless fun’ or ‘a compliment’. It has real and lasting repercussions. It’s affecting the well-being of our young women and in many cases, they are simply opting out of using public spaces," said Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena.

"The disturbing picture emerging from our current research on street harassment is that it is very common, it can be very serious, and perhaps most concerning, it begins before a girl even reaches puberty."

The survey found one-third of women surveyed first experienced harassment before the age of 15, and those who experienced it at a younger age were more likely to report ongoing impacts on their behaviour and wellbeing.

Disturbingly, despite three-quarters of women reporting harassment occurring in front of bystanders, only 16 percent said that a witness had stepped in to assist them.

Provided by Plan Australia

"We know that Sydney is a fantastic city and one of the safest in the world, but even so, it could be improved by acknowledging street harassment is a problem that really needs to be addressed," Legana said.

'Sexism In The City':
  • One in four young women in Sydney experience street harassment at least once a month
  • One-third were first harassed before age 15
  • One in three who have been harassed once a month or more report anxiety, depression or mental health issues as a direct result
  • Those who have been harassed on a regular basis (once a month or more) are twice as likely to report experiencing anxiety, depression or ongoing mental health issues as a result
  • 75 percent of women were harassed in front of bystanders, yet only 16% say someone helped them
  • One in 10 young women say they always feel safe to go out at night
  • One in six say they always feel unsafe in the city after dark
  • Most common forms of street harassment: cat-calling (83%), menacing behaviour (55%), being told to smile (44%), having their path blocked (30%), touched inappropriately (30%), physical violence or sexual assault (10%)

Plan's survey results come just a month after the organisation launched its Free To Be project in Sydney. An interactive map allows women to log hotspots of harassment, with the project also launching in Delhi, Lima and Madrid after a successful Melbourne pilot last year. Women can drop pins on a map of their city at places where they have had bad experiences or simply feel unsafe, and also drop pins at places they feel safe or have had a positive experience, with the aim of presenting the data to city planning officials and law enforcement authorities to show hotspots for misbehaviour.

  • Find out here which areas have logged bad or good experiences

In Sydney, negative pins have been dropped in clusters around public places like shopping malls, intersections near busy pubs and clubs, and around transport hubs. Women have reported a range of experiences from feeling simply unsafe or uncomfortable in certain areas, being catcalled or verbally abused, watched or followed by men, touched, and even sexually assaulted.

More than 2500 entries have been logged on the map since its launch in April.

Provided by Plan Australia

"I have been followed all the way to my door, I have been spat at, stalked, sworn out and physically touched", one report from Surry Hills stated.

Another entry, from a pin in a park outside Central train station, said:

"I was grabbed by a man and forced to the ground, my underwear pulled down then digitally penetrated until I could struggle free and run"

"Approached and cornered by two men who tried to force me into their hotel room", came another from Darling Harbour.

Provided by Plan Australia

Legana said bystanders "need to do better" to help combat the issue.

"Overwhelmingly, 9 out of 10 young women say men in particular have an important role to intervene if they see street harassment occurring. Like any form of sexism, a culture shift is required so that this behaviour is never encouraged and that it’s not seen as normal or acceptable," Legana said.

"[The Free To Be project] is not about labelling cities as ‘dangerous’. It’s about helping authorities and planners to reimagine public spaces so that everyone can enjoy city life equally."

Provided by Plan Australia
Alarming Number Of Women Experiencing Street Harassment