Two thirds of British women experience catcalling

Over a third of women in Britain have been groped in public, according to a recent study into the everyday differences between women’s and men’s sense of safety in public places.

YouGov, who researched for End Violence Against Women, also found that two thirds of British women have received unwanted sexual attention in public – such as wolf whistling, sexual comments, staring or exposure. This compares to just 8% of men. Young people are significantly more likely to experience every one of these behaviours.


Findings of a YouGov survey conducted on personal safety and gender. Image: YouGov

There are plenty of examples of unwanted sexual attention in public, especially with young women, since the popularisation of Twitter:

And there was even a trending topic set up by actress Rowan Blanchard on Twitter, which discussed the first time people got catcalled:

Especially with the rise of feminism and promotion of equality, there is a greater amount of hostility towards those who catcall in any form – with wolf whistling, shouting in the street and cars honking their horns being incredibly common. In a snap poll conducted by iCov, 71% of women said they felt angry or unsafe after being catcalled. One woman said: “I am always so embarrassed when it happens, it only ever happens when I’m on my own and makes me feel really vulnerable and exposed.” Another said: “More recently a guy yelled “hey beautiful” then came up and put his hand on my shoulder. I got so mad because hearing things shouted at you is one thing, but being touched is another. Another guy kept calling to me then made the gesture with his fingers and tongue. That made me really mad.”

Conversely, other women feel a confidence boost when catcalled. A woman said: “When you’ve spent the time on choosing your outfit and doing your make up although I only do it for me, it kind of makes you feel good knowing someone has noticed you”.

There are common occasions where people (especially, but not exclusively, women) receive unwanted sexual attention in public, such as on public transport or walking down the street. Personally, I have experienced many instances of catcalling where I felt particularly angry or unsafe – on buses and trains, walking down the street, in public places – whether on my own, with male friends or even my partner. One lady told me that, while in New York, a man approached her husband and shook his hand to congratulate him on her.

With so many women reporting to have experienced unwanted sexual attention in public, there is the reminder that this is something that every woman has to potentially face when leaving the house. Street harassment such as catcalling is a subtle but constant reminder to women that our bodies don’t just belong to us.

Most women, both in iCov’s poll and on their own social networks, said that they felt scared, ashamed and confused – it’s not entertaining, it’s not cute. But the most disgusting thing about catcalling? That it’s a part of everyday life for many, and a rite of passage for girls at a young age – which is totally unacceptable.

Jessica Allen

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