University of Suffolk survey finds children younger than five suffer sexual harassment

Credit: PA Wire
The results of the survey have been described as "shocking but unsurprising". Credit: PA Wire

Victims of sexual harassment are being targeted “shockingly early” – with some younger than five years old, research has suggested.

Most sexual harassment victims experienced it for the first time during adolescence or childhood, according to the survey by the University of Suffolk for Crimestoppers.

The team behind the research said the results of the survey were "shocking but unsurprising".

People who took part in the survey were asked if they consider themselves to be a victim or survivor of sexual harassment and 68.7% of respondents said yes.

Asked what age they were when this first happened, 3.7% of respondents said it first happened before the age of five while 13.1% said they were aged between six and 10.

Similar proportions reported it first taking place when they were aged 11-13 (29%) and 14-16 (30.9%).

Crimestoppers said the majority of those who experience sexual harassment first encounter it during adolescence or childhood.

Some 1,800 people across the UK took part in the opt-in survey between December 2021 and January 2022.

It focused on people's experiences and perspectives of and about sexual harassment in public spaces.

The data showed less than 1% of victims felt flattered, attractive or desired after their most recent encounter.

Dr Katherine Allen, from the University of Suffolk, said: "In a post #MeToo era, these findings are shocking but unsurprising.

"Our survey underscores that sexual harassment is common, perpetrated across a range of public spaces and remains highly gendered, disproportionately impacting women and girls, and limiting their ability to exercise everyday freedoms."

The perpetrators included strangers, colleagues, and classmates. Credit: PA

The largest group of perpetrators were strangers, followed by classmates when younger, and then acquaintances and colleagues in later life.

Asked if they had changed their behaviour to feel safe, 14.6% of those who responded said they avoid isolated areas, 12.2% said they avoid going out late or in the dark and 9.8% said they shun outdoor areas where they previously were targeted.

One survey participant said: "I think a lot of the time, perpetrators are completely oblivious to how their actions are making the other person feel.

"Being sexually harassed makes me feel genuinely scared for my safety and scared to anger the person in case they get violent."

Lydia Patsalides, violence against women and girls sexual violence lead at Crimestoppers, said "we must all play our part in helping change behaviour".

"This research confirms that all forms of sexual harassment begin at a shockingly early age, which is completely unacceptable.

"It raises the question to those men involved: would you accept this behaviour towards those closest to you, such as a partner, female friend, or your daughter?

"Crimestoppers is taking its part in the conversation as these normalised behaviours can escalate, with some perpetrators going on to commit the most serious of crimes such as rape and child abuse."

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