Why young men turn to street harassment
10 April 2019 at 5:29 pm
Boys and young men are putting their need for social acceptance ahead of the needs of women to feel safe, according to new global research from Plan International.
The charity spoke to 750 girls and young women living in Sydney, Kampala, Lima, Madrid and Delhi, and found many were harassed by men who appeared to view their behaviour as a way to bond with other men.
The report concluded that groups of boys and men saw street harassment – from catcalling and making lewd comments to following or chasing girls – as a form of entertainment and male bonding.
Plan international Australia CEO Susanne Legena said this vital research provided compelling evidence that men and boys around the world were denying women and girls their right to freedom of movement with sexist and often vicious behavior.
“What’s particularly disturbing is that it’s clear that harassing girls and young women often serves as a group bonding exercise for men and boys – an enjoyable activity that many use to gain status among their male friends,” Legena said.
“This clearly highlights the urgent need for more positive examples of masculinity to show this behaviour is completely unacceptable.”
The report said many men and boys suppressed empathy for women to strengthen their bond with other men, even if it meant humiliating women in the process.
A 22-year-old woman from Sydney said: “Men on their lunch break lurk to watch women going to the nearby gym in their sports gear. They elbow each other, point, laugh and take photos of Lycra-clad bottoms.”
A 19-year-old woman from Lima detailed a similar experience.
“A group of men began to verbally harass me and one of them dared to touch me, the rest just laughed,” she said.
The research was conducted through Free to Be, a map-based online social survey tool designed by girls and young women, who worked in partnership with Plan International, Monash University’s XYX Lab and digital consultancy CrowdSpot.
Dr Nicole Kalms, director of the XYX Lab, said investigating why and where group harassment happens is a first step to creating safer streets for women and girls.
“There is evidence that there are men who only harass women when in the company of other men, to reassert a group identity of men as the ‘dominant sex’,” Kalms said.
“This research uncovers how men’s peer support and ‘group membership’ can work to condone, excuse and normalise different forms of gender-based violence.”
In Sydney, the report found harassment commonly involved abuse and threats yelled from vehicles. Sydney women aged between 21 and 25 were found to be the most vulnerable, but some victims were as young as 13.
Plan International is working with boys and young men to change their attitudes as part of its Safer Cities for Girls program.
Eric, 24, is one participant and said the program changed his behaviour towards girls and young women in his town of Kampala, Uganda.
“Through Safer Cities, we were taught to be empathetic. It didn’t happen overnight, but gradually, we started to see girls and young women in a different way: as our sisters, our mothers, our cousins, our wives. Our mentality changed,” he said.