Public Harassment in Edinburgh – 2017 Survey Report

This time last year, we published the results of an online survey that we had launched at the end of 2016. With the help of the Equalities Transport Adivsory Group (ETAG) we carried out a second online survey as well as a paper survey in May 2017 to supplement our data.

A total of 426 responses from the three surveys have been summarised and are now available in this report. An overview of the results can be found below:

SURVEY RESULTS – SUMMARY

Across all three surveys:

  • At least 60% of respondents self-identified as female.
  • At least 40% of respondents had someone shout something offensive at them.
  • At least 30% of respondents were made to feel uncomfortable by someone else getting too close and/or saying something.
  • At least 26% of respondents had their way blocked.
  • At least 11% of respondents had never experienced public harassment (as described in question three).
  • At least 65% of respondents were on the street when they were harassed.
  • At least 59.2% of respondents were harassed in front of witnesses.
  • Of these respondents, at least 73% were not assisted by those witnesses.
  • At least 41% of respondents thought they were harassed because of their gender.
  • At least 55.7% of respondents told their friends about their experience being harassed.
  • At least 68.5% of respondents did not see the point of reporting the harassment that they had experienced to authority figures.
  • At least 33.1% of respondents avoid eye contact when in public because of the harassment that they experienced.
  • At least 27.7% of respondents avoid specific places because of the harassment that they experienced.
  • At least 25.6% of respondents did not change their behaviour due to their experiences of harassment.

SURVEY RESULTS – COMMENTARY

The survey results presented in this report provide a glimpse into the experiences of some of those who have been harassed in Edinburgh’s public spaces. While not representative of the population as a whole, the data collected does provide us with some insight into the nature of harassment and the impact it has. Listed below are some highlighted themes:

IMPACT OF HARASSMENT

One of the most valuable aspects of this report are the testimonies of the survey participants as they describe how they felt when they experienced harassment, with words such as “angry” and “scared”, being used most commonly. These stories, combined with the responses to question thirteen, on the long term impact of harassment (such as respondents avoiding eye contact in public spaces, or avoiding some areas altogether), provide a valuable qualitative insight into the negative impact of harassment, making it more difficult to dismiss the actions of harassers as inconsequential.

REPORTING HARASSMENT

Many respondents didn’t see the point of reporting incidents of harassment to authority figures. When asked to make suggestions for how authority figures could make the reporting process easier, respondents highlighted a number of issues, ranging from the feeling that the police had more pressing issues to deal with, to lack of support and understanding from authorities, when incidents were reported.

Some mentioned that the frequency of such kinds of harassment made it tiring to keep reporting them, while others thought that it was difficult to report such incidents in the first place because they were often so fleeting. While the police and transport authorities rely on reporting to gauge the prevalence/seriousness of an issue, these responses may indicate a potential need to re-evaluate how authorities currently address the issue of public harassment.

BYSTANDER INTERVENTION

Over half of incidents of harassment described by survey participants were witnessed by others, but most of those witnesses did not assist in any way. In incidents where witnesses did assist, it seems to have made the person being harassed feel better, rather than worse.

Qualitative data collected by Hollaback! in New York (published in 2012) show a similar bystander impact where people who were harassed felt positively when witnesses intervened on their behalf and felt negatively when witnesses ignored what was happening. Similar sentiments are echoed in stories shared around the globe, and are one of the reasons we advocate for bystander intervention training.

When a person is being harassed in front of other people and they do nothing to acknowledge or disapprove of the situation, it can be really disheartening and make the person being harassed feel like the people around them are condoning the harassment, even if their inaction is because they don’t know what to do in the situation, or are afraid to get involved.

On the other hand, when witnesses do show disapproval (like giving the harasser a dirty look, or checking in with you to see if you’re okay) or intervene on your behalf (like telling the harasser to leave you alone, or reporting the incident to an authority figure), then that can make you feel supported, while also showing the harasser and other bystanders that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable. However, bystander intervention is primarily only useful where bystanders are present. As the survey results show, at least a third of incidents had no witnesses.

Ultimately, a long term preventative approach is needed so that incidents of harassment stop happening at all. We need to address the root causes of public harassment (whether it’s sexism or ableism etc.) through education in our homes, schools, and institutions. We also need to make it clear that we (as a society) find this kind of behaviour unacceptable in our communities.

 

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