Plan International Australia is excited to see Victoria Police listening to the voices of young women and girls and launching the STOPIT service, a new tool to help combat sexual harassment.
For years the girls’ equality charity has highlighted that street harassment is one of the biggest dangers facing women, girls and gender diverse people across the globe.
“Women, girls and gender diverse people have normalised and internalised street harassment for far too long,” said Susanne Legena, CEO of Plan International Australia.
“It doesn’t just make us feel unsafe, it also impacts our right to engage freely in public spaces. Half the population has felt the need to avoid certain places entirely, changed their social plans, taken longer routes home to avoid danger, walked fearfully with keys in hand and, in some extreme cases, even quit their jobs or schooling as they haven’t been able to get there and back without fearing for their safety.”
Plan International Australia began to sound the alarm on this issue in Melbourne as early as 2016, with youth activists calling on police and other authorities to take action for girls’ and women’s safety. In 2018, a Plan International survey of leading safety experts across 22 cities globally found that street harassment was the number one safety risk facing girls and young women across the world. This has only been exacerbated by Covid-19 lockdowns and less footfall in our cities.
Plan International’s Free To Be campaign uncovered the places that made women feel safe or unsafe via a mapping tool across five continents and found that the majority of unsafe places were around public transport. The report also found that young women and girls often did not report the harassment because it was largely trivialised by authorities.
When Plan International Australia’s youth activists first started campaigning on this issue six years ago, they were clear that a major part of the problem was not being able to report their experiences to authorities. Either they didn’t know how to report these sort of incidents, they were afraid they wouldn’t be taken seriously, or their experiences were so common that they just didn’t have time to go through long and unwieldy criminal reporting processes every time. This under reporting meant that the true scale of street harassment was not properly known. And lack of data is a major problem: if authorities can’t see the problem, they can’t act on it.
“Our youth activists called on police to improve reporting mechanisms with a simple, text-based reporting tool that would help police to understand the problem and find offenders, and allow those being harassed to feel validated that this experience is not tolerated in our society; it’s not ok,” said Hayley Cull, deputy CEO of Plan International. “Victoria Police were willing to listen, and we’re thrilled to see them launching STOPIT today, learning from the experience of young people and evidence from around the world that systems like this are an important tool in ending street harassment.”
“Unwanted sexual behaviour is not a compliment, it is a crime,” said Cull. “Every young person deserves to be free, safe and equal in their city, and that will only happen when we can eliminate street harassment for good.”
Plan International Australia also hopes that by raising the awareness of street harassment through the STOP IT app, Victorians will be reminded that we can all make a difference, by reporting harassment when you experience it or by stepping in to assist someone who is experiencing harassment.
“We know that far too few people step in to help or support if they see harassment happening, so being a better bystander is critical, which is why we’re working with L’Oreal Paris to train thousands of Australians to intervene safely and effectively against street harassment through our Stand Up campaign,” Cull said.
Ruvimbo Togara is a Plan International Australia youth activist who is no stranger to street harassment, having been leered at, verbally intimidated and then followed home on the bus by a strange man. She has also had an aggressive passenger touch her inappropriately on a train, and yet no one stepped in to help her. Togara is now a powerful advocate against street harassment, including with Plan International Australia through Stand Up.
“When this man touched me, I felt anxious and unsafe; he made me feel powerless,” Togara said. “People shouldn’t just sit and look on while people are being harassed.
“There’s a need for education on how to approach to help others in such situations and there’s a need for resources that assist those who might encounter harassment either on the public transportation system or even just on the streets,” she said.
About Stand Up
Stand Up is an awareness and training program that offers a proven methodology – the 5 D’s – to help both men and women to safely intervene if they witness or experience street harassment. In 2022, L’Oreal announced a partnership with Plan International Australia to roll out the Stand Up Against Street Harassment bystander intervention training program locally. The goal is to grow a community of up-standers, educating and empowering people everywhere to take a stand against harassment.