Pupils from three secondary schools encountered more than 100 incidents of street harassment in just two months, new research has shown.
As part of a pilot study, researchers at Nottingham Trent University wanted to investigate the extent to which 11-15 year-olds encountered harassment outside the school gates.
Street harassment – random incidents involving comments, gestures and behaviour which could be sexual, racial, homophobic or gender-related – is not officially recorded in crime statistics for children and there is very little research in this area.
Of the 118 incidents encountered, young people said adults – usually a stranger – were mostly responsible.
The most common type of harassment was verbal, which accounted for almost half (42%) of experiences – and included name-calling, being laughed at and talked about.
Non-verbal harassment – which included being beeped at with a car horn, being stared at and vehicles stopping or slowing down to watch young people – accounted for 28% of street harassment.
Almost a quarter of incidents (22%) said the behaviour they encountered was threatening, while eight percent of pupils said they had experienced all forms of street harassment.
Vehicles were frequently used to harass young people – with participants saying occupants also waved, pointed at or even videoed children. A small number said they were followed, cornered and chased.
Girls experienced most harassment, accounting for 58% of incidents, compared to males’ 37%.
The three schools were selected from very different social areas across the UK, illustrating that street harassment of young people spanned all locations.
Although most incidents were not physically violent, incidents of harassment left young people feeling confused and vulnerable, the researchers found.
The project brought together a psychologist, linguist, educationist, social worker and legal expert from the University's School of Social Sciences, School of Arts and Humanities and Nottingham Law School.
The research team has expertise in bullying, harassment and discrimination among schoolchildren, as well as how children use language to describe their feelings and experiences.
The study involved holding focus groups with children and teachers, as well as the development of a bespoke web app, through which pupils could immediately provide specific details of their experiences in their own words.
Rachel Harding, Research Fellow at Nottingham Trent University, said: “While research has been carried out into online bullying and harassment, and bullying and harassment in schools, there are very few studies about harassment when children and young people are out and about in public.
“It was surprising that street harassment was so prevalent. Children and young people are left so confused, hurt and angry by their experiences, and often don’t know what to do about them. There is an assumption that street harassment mainly happens only to girls and only in ‘rough’ or ‘no-go’ areas, but this is not the case.
“We hope this research will make people start to question why children and young people experience harassment when out and about in public.”
Nottingham Trent University psychologist Dr Lucy Betts added: “The results suggest that we need to consider young people's experiences of harassment beyond those places where researchers tend to typically focus.
"For instance, we know a lot about in-school harassment and cyberbullying but less about what happens to young people outside of these contexts.”
Researchers on the project will present their initial findings during an ESRC Festival of Social Science event at the university on November 8.
The project comes under the auspices of the university's Nottingham Centre for Children, Young People and Families.
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Nottingham Trent University was named Modern University of the Year in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018. The award recognises NTU for its strong student satisfaction, quality of teaching, overall student experience and engagement with employers.
Nottingham Trent University (NTU) has been awarded the highest, gold, rating in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework for its outstanding teaching and learning.
NTU is one of the largest UK universities with nearly 28,000 students and more than 3,500 staff across four campuses, contributing £496m to the UK economy every year. It is one of the most environmentally-friendly universities, containing some of the country’s most inspiring and efficient award-winning buildings.
The University is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable Nottingham Trent to be a vehicle for social mobility. NTU is the sixth biggest recruiter of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the country and 95.6% of the its graduates go on to employment or further education within six months of leaving.
NTU is home to world-class research, winning The Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2015 - the highest national honour for a UK university. It recognised the University’s pioneering projects to improve weapons and explosives detection in luggage, enable safer production of powdered infant formula and combat food fraud.
With an international student population of approximately 2,600 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook.