17 April 2018: 90% of young women in Sydney feel unsafe in their city after dark

Research from Plan International Australia has revealed young women in Sydney overwhelmingly feel unsafe at night, on public transport and while navigating the city alone, even during the day.

The vast majority of young women aged 18-25 surveyed* (90%) said they felt unsafe on the streets of Sydney at night and a further 92% felt uncomfortable taking public transport alone after dark. Of those, one in three (35%) said they always felt unsafe on public transport at night.  

The research coincides with the launch of Plan International Australia’s new Free to Be online city map – a web-based tool similar to Google maps – designed by young women for young women. 

Created by Plan International Australia in partnership with CrowdSpot and Monash University, the Free to Be map allows young women and girls to drop a ‘good’ pin on the locations in the city that they like and a ‘bad’ pin on the areas where they feel uncomfortable or unsafe.  They can then provide anonymous detail about that area or record a particular incident that occurred there. 

Key findings from the Plan International Australia survey of 452 women aged 18-25 in Sydney: 

  • 90% said they sometimes or always felt unsafe in the city at night. 
  • Almost half (44%) felt uncomfortable taking public transport alone during the day. 
  • The vast majority (92%) felt uncomfortable taking public transport alone at night. Of those, one in three (35%) said they always felt unsafe on public transport at night.  
  • Half (49%) had experienced street harassment. 
  • The majority of young women (90%) said they sometimes or always made specific plans to keep themselves safe on a night out. Two-thirds (58%) said they always made safety plans. 
  • More than half (57%) had cancelled their plans to go out because of safety concerns. 
  • Half said taking a cab or ride-sharing service during the day made them feel unsafe. The majority (80%) felt using these services at night was not safe.  
  • Almost half (43%) agreed that Sydney isn’t a safe place for a woman on her own and two-thirds (66%) agreed street harassment was commonly experienced by young women in Sydney. 
  • The vast majority (82%) believe men are the main perpetrators of street harassment. 
  • Most young women surveyed (82%) said they would use an online city safety map. 

Sydney is one of five locations worldwide where the Free to Be map launches today, including: Delhi, Kampala, Lima, Sydney and Madrid. It is believed to be the most ambitious crowdsourced data collection project to combat street harassment ever undertaken. 

Plan International Australia’s CEO Susanne Legena said the aim of the Free to Be map was to harness user-generated data to provide a clear picture of the reality for girls and women living in cities. 

“There’s an assumption that Australian cities are safe and welcoming for girls and women. When you have 90% of young women in Sydney telling us the city is unsafe for them at night and many of those opting out of going out altogether, it is clear this is certainly not the case,” Ms Legena said.  

Ms Legena said when Plan International Australia launched the pilot city safety map in Melbourne back in 2016, thousands of young women shared ‘extremely concerning’ experiences of harassment. 

“What surprised us about the Melbourne map was the scale and severity of incidents described by young women and just how common those were, whether it’s stalking, intimidation, being cat-called and even serious assaults. We expect we’ll see a similar result in Sydney. This should be a light bulb moment for anyone with a stake in city planning and safety that we need to make big changes to make our cities welcoming spaces for everyone, not just for some.

“Street harassment is a bigger issue in our country than we like to acknowledge. It has become so common that it’s seen as part of the daily experience of a woman. Girls here in Australia and abroad have told us that they don’t feel empowered to talk about it or report it. Instead, they modify their routines to avoid being harassed. 

“We want to bring the issue into the light and send a message that, actually, it’s not okay, it should never be just tolerated as a part of the normal day to day female experience, and something has to be done to shift the culture that allows this behavior to thrive.

“This data will be provided to city planners, public transport authorities, police and groups responsible for urban safety, so they can make positive changes to make cities safer places for women.”

The Sydney Free to Be map will remain open for entries until May 28. The data will be collected and analysed by researchers from Monash University’s XYX Lab, which will provide insight into the best and worst areas of the city, what makes a city safe or dangerous for girls. 

Dr Nicole Kalms, Director at the XYX Lab at Monash University, will lead the analysis of the data from the five Free to Be cities. “The research we conducted on the Melbourne Free to Be map in 2016 helped us understand that city spaces previously assumed to be safe and welcoming to women are not necessarily so,” Dr Kalms said. 

“It’s not just dark and seedy laneways that are problem areas, it’s also those spaces that girls and women negotiate on a daily basis. The XYX Lab are keen to see if in Sydney, like other cities, sexual harassment is not  confined to Friday and Saturday nights but indeed a normal part of women and girls’ everyday experiences.

“As the Free to Be map moves to Sydney, a new picture of Australia’s largest and most internationally recognised city will be revealed, alongside four other major cities around the world involved in this project.”

CrowdSpot Director Anthony Aisenberg added: “We worked collaboratively with a fantastic group of young women to design the platform. This is an excellent example of how technology is enabling young women to have a voice in influencing their city.”

Girls and young women in Sydney are encouraged to take part in this groundbreaking research project by visiting http://sydney.planfreetobe.org/