Looking beyond the statistics: Streetbees asked people to share experiences of sexual harassment and assault in their own words.
The spotlight on these types of offences has never been greater, but the numbers — however shocking — only tell us half the story.
From the minute the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke across the pages of The New York Times and The New Yorker, the world has been watching as prominent figures from all walks of life embark on a very public, collective fall from grace.
As is often the way with the modern world, these high profile incidents have allowed women and men from all over the world to finally speak out against abusers of their own — from lewd and intimidating behaviour in public places, to darker, more abhorrent crimes committed in the comfort of homes, schools and other once-safe spaces.
Every day, more statistics are published surrounding the issue and every day they remain difficult to digest; Streetbees’ findings are no different. After speaking to 1179 people across the UK and USA — 896 of them women — it’s clear that Western society as a whole has some demons to exorcise in order to maintain its position as a self-styled beacon of justice and morality.
On the page, these figures bring the issue into sharp focus. Almost half of respondents (48.5%) have experienced sexual harassment or assault.
Among women, that figure rises to 66%. Among people who identify as LGBTQI+? Almost eight in ten (77%).
But what about the real human cost? On paper, two thirds of women clearly dictating that they’ve been subject to these incidents is obviously shocking but, for many, it’s also intangible.
To really comprehend the scale of the issue, we need to look beyond the numbers and into real-world accounts of abuse. And, using the intimate environment of a WhatsApp-style text conversation within the Streetbees app, that’s exactly what they have done.
Looking through the prism of location is perhaps the simplest way to visualise the true scale of the offences. The workplace, understandably, has been under the spotlight from the majority of the business press (Weinstein’s blaming of ‘industry culture’ has undoubtedly fuelled this), but instead of looking at boardroom reforms across multinational companies, it’s the consistent targeting of rank-and-file employees that poses a more pressing issue.
“I was at work in 2008, and it was raining,” says one respondent. “I was working as a bagger, and an older man came up to me. He wrapped his arm around me and hugged me with a hard squeeze to my breast and said ‘that’s what I like in a woman — a wet t-shirt and a big breast’.”
For others, their experiences become more sinister still.
“I was sixteen years old, and working in an office. A man that was older than me would not leave me alone. He ended up coming at me in a closet and tried to force himself on me. I tried to escape the harassment and the abuse, but I was a minor at the time, and my family did not care”.
The idea of families being unable (or, in some cases, unwilling) to provide protection is not a new one. One respondent recounted that they were “ten years old and staying with a relative, when a friend of [their relative’s] decided he liked me, so he molested me. He said he would hurt my relatives if I said anything”. For another, it was on summer vacation where “my aunt’s husband sexually abused me in my sleep”.
According to Streetbees data, incidents occur at the victim’s home, or at the home of a friend, in 46% of cases — an important indication of how far is needed to go to ensure this behaviour is no longer normalised by those preying on the vulnerable.
Nightclubs — locations that, within the media at least, have transformed from havens of inclusivity to breeding grounds for assault — register less than half of this figure (20%).
One in five assaults occurring in clubs still remains worryingly high, however, and the responses we received regarding these incidents smack of the calculated opportunism that has long threatened women’s attempts to enjoy themselves uninhibited.
“In 2012, I was in a bar and man grabbed me. He held me against a wall and put his fingers into my pants”, read one. “It happened to my friend, not me”, read another, “she was raped on her way home from a night out”.
It seems that after years (decades, generations), we — the people, the public figures, the politicians — are now prepared to take a long look at the culture of ignorance, avoidance and enablement that has ultimately fostered many of the experiences the respondents shared. The pendulum has swung in favour of progress. The challenge now is to act on it.
A quick word on our methodology: The figures in the article are taken from one piece of field research, carried out in October 2017. We spoke to 1179 people of all ages and demographics across the UK & USA. All of the data was collected by mobile and web surveys, and is accurate to within 3 percentage points 19 times out of 20.