A call to action to address sexual harassment in Wales

Fi hefyd – Me too.

Two small but powerful words which, in any language, tell women and girls who’ve been abused that they are not the only ones, that sexual harassment and abuse impacts most women and girls, that we see and hear women and girls who’ve been abused, we understand, and there is help and support available.

Just over a month ago, these powerful words formed the #MeToo campaign on social media, which continues to involve millions of women speaking out about men’s inappropriate, unwanted, harassing and abusive behaviour. Its origins can be traced to several years before social media dominated our lives, when Tarana Burke initiated “Me Too” as a grassroots movement to help survivors in Black and minority communities.

#MeToo has now moved from social media to the Hollywood streets, where a recent march of solidarity with women who have been sexually harassed and abused highlighted the fact that this happens every day to women and girls and is not only perpetrated by the rich and famous.

Sexual harassment is conducted in every country, by the many not the few: by men who are friends and who are strangers, by men in the family, by students, colleagues, politicians, community leaders, by men in positions of trust, by activists, by those who don’t care about social justice, children, women’s rights and feminism and by those who do.

Given its endemic nature, the responses to men’s sexual harassment of women by the state and employers has often been too little too late. When women do speak out, victim blaming and shaming is rife, women are accused of not speaking out soon enough after the harassment has occurred, and their voices are quickly overtaken by men’s experiences and the views of the establishment.

We have also seen this first hand over the last months as women have come forward to share their stories. In the run up to International Day to End Violence Against Women, it is vital we remember these women who have bravely come forward recently, and those yet to do so, in the hope that things will improve across sectors and political parties. All of the women who have come forward deserve their allegations to be investigated, and for any learning from the investigations to help improve policy and practice in future. They also deserve an end to the demands in the media for their anonymity to be lifted and for the places, times and dates of the allegations to be published.

We know that sexual harassment and other forms of male violence against women rely, for its continuation, on shame, collusion and silence. We know from experience that women will be disbelieved, accused of over reacting, or of dredging up past allegations when they speak out.

So it’s vital we stop victim blaming, and that we believe women who speak out about their experiences, in any organisation and across all sectors, if we want to make any progress in ending sexual harassment for future generations. It’s also vital more women feel confident in coming forward and that they receive the support they need through this difficult time, in the same way that anyone who has accusations made against them should be afforded a duty of care, by their employers, whilst an investigation takes place.

We must:
• Ensure women’s and girls’ voices and experiences inform improvements in policy and practice, that specialist services for women and children are available in every area, and that all organisations, Government departments and political parties embed violence against women identification and prevention into their core business, as service providers, community leaders, and as employers.
• Implement the recommendations made by survivors, as set out in the Wales national strategy.
• Make connections between sexual harassment and all forms of violence against women and girls, and take concerted actions to address the continuing imbalance of power between men and women which lies at the heart of male violence against women and girls in all its forms.

Sexual harassment is the most common for of male violence against women.
– Sexual harassment begins from a young age, with 1 in 3 girls aged 16-18 reporting being subject to unwanted sexual touching at school. Sexist harassment and bullying intersects with racism and young women have also spoken out about the particularly significant impact sexual harassment has on the lives of young Black women in the UK and the consequences for standing up to it.

– Sexual harassment is widespread in the workplace. Last year, research by the TUC found 52% women had experienced sexual harassment at work, nearly a quarter had been touched without invitation, and a fifth had experienced a sexual advance. Only 1 in 5 women reported the abuse as most feared it would harm their career or they would not be taken seriously; of those who reported, for 80% nothing changed and in 16% of cases it got worse.

– Sexual harassment in public spaces also dominates women’s lives: 66% of all women – and 85% of younger women aged 18-24 – experience sexual harassment in public. It was reported recently that half of women feel unsafe in Cardiff after dark. This supports an earlier study which found that 1 in 4 young women in Wales reported inappropriate touching or unwanted physical attention on a night out, and suggested the problem is worse in Wales than in any other part of Britain.

Anyone affected by sexual harassment, sexual violence or any other form of abuse in Wales can contact the Live Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800 for free 24-hour confidential information and support, and help to access local services.