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Uni of York holds event to mark the launch of the report ‘Everything is racialised on top’

‘Universities could be doing more to combat these sorts of behaviours’


On the 7th March 2023, the University of York held an event to mark the formal launch of the report ‘It’s all racialised on top’: Black and racially minoritised girls’ and women’s experiences of public sexual harassment (PSH).

The report aimed to better understand the experience of Black and racially minoritised girls who have experienced public sexual harassment in the UK, demographics previously neglected in this type of research, in the hope of contributing to informing policy and practice for tackling public sexual harassment through anti-racist approaches.

The findings showed the range of ways and spaces in which Black and minoritised girls experience public sexual harassment constantly and in multiple settings, ranging from online, to school, to in public. It also revealed their differing structural, institutional, and cultural barriers to reporting PSH to the police and others, in comparison to White females, and the solutions to this.

Written by researchers at York and funded by Plan International UK, the report which can be found here is the first report on this issue in the UK.

 

The researchers who conducted the interviews, focus groups, and produced this report included Professor Vanita Sundaram, Dr Beth Bell, Dr Nadia Jessop and Emma Jackson from the University of York. They spoke to Black and minoritised girls and young women who bravely shared their lived experiences of being sexually harassed in public.

‘The experience of BAME women and girls is rarely looked at’

Emma Jackson, who completed the majority of the fieldwork and helped to analyse the data, said: “The main aim was really to try and understand better the experience of Black and racially minoritised girls of public sexual harassment. There had been a study done on PSH of women and girls, but the experience of BAME women and girls is rarely looked at.

“I have always done research with marginalised groups and I am always curious to hear people’s stories. As a woman, I have experienced PSH (as most women have), and I wanted to learn how these women’s and girls’ experiences were similar or different to experiences I was familiar with. My interest came from curiosity and a desire to learn and understand. I also loved how this study was focused on not only provoking change, but that this would be led by the ideas that came from the participants.

“I have always done research with marginalised groups and I am always curious to hear people’s stories. As a woman, I have experienced PSH (as most women have), and I wanted to learn how these women’s and girls’ experiences were similar or different to experiences I was familiar with. My interest came from curiosity and a desire to learn and understand. I also loved how this study was focused on not only provoking change, but that this would be led by the ideas that came from the participants.

The event, consisting of an overview of the report, a panellist discussion, and a Q&A, highlighted the findings of the report:

‘Racism and sexual harassment have collided’

Professor Vanita Sundaram, Dr Beth Bell, and Dr Nadia Jessop all spoke at the event, illustrating how “racism and sexual harassment have collided”, how the “online and offline distinction of sexual harassment have now blurred”, and how “the police, school professionals, and university staff are seen to be against people of colour, meaning that reporting is not always the option until institutional change is made.”

The panel consisted of Maryam, a member of Plan International UK’s Youth Advisory Panel, Amy Abdelshaid, the Head of Evidence and Knowledge Management for the Foundation for Women’s Health and Development, Emilia Chambers, the BAME Officer for the BAME Network at the University of York, and Zara Sharif, the Women’s Officer for the BAME Network at the Univeristy of York.

‘When we say no, it means no’

Maryam spoke about the “unique experiences of violence” that people from different ethnicities, and sexualities face and highlighted how “14 and 15-year-olds are experiencing public sexual harassment at school.”

She said “When we say ‘No’, it means no. We should not be ashamed to speak out.” She outlined the solutions, saying: “This needs to be a crime. The UK government should introduce new legislation that specifically makes public sexual harassment an offence, as this would create a clear message that such conduct is not acceptable and would give girls more confidence in reporting this treatment and expecting justice. Thus, an owness can be placed on public authorities to take both preventative action. This new legislation can be modelled on a draft bill developed by Plan International.”

Maryam highlighted that “the self-esteem and mental health of Black and minoritised girls is being affected greatly. Women are no longer free to express themselves for who they are. We need to take action to make sure women feel safe on the street. Education of public sexual harassment needs to be improved, as does the ability to report incidents.” She ended her speech by saying: “Together we are stronger and together we can make public sexual harassment a crime.”

‘We don’t see representation of our pain and our struggle, even though we know it happens’

Amy Abdelshaid said, “I am really grateful to be here to talk about this really underrepresented topic. Research on young women’s experiences of racialised sexual harassment has involved the idea of fetishisation and over-sexualisation which has blurred boundaries of consent and has heightened the risk of sexual harassment.”

She continued by saying: “Young women are often discouraged from seeking support or reporting their experiences since services for reporting are dominated by white men and women, which can cause racial profiling. Distinct experiences need to be equally recognised in the policy guidance of sexual harassment. Educational professionals and public officials need to have the correct training which incorporates cultural competency training.” Amy mentioned how one girl she spoke to said: “We don’t see representation of our pain and our struggle, even though we know it happens. Our experiences are disregarded.”

Emilia Chambers shared her thoughts as a black, female student beginning by admitting “initially I did not think I could relate or had not experienced this sort of sexual harassment, but as I have been sitting on this panel, I have realised I have been through these experiences and I think that highlights how easily being sexually harassed can be dismissed.”

‘I believe that universities could be doing more to combat these sorts of behaviours’

Emilia continued: “The findings of the report completely resonate with me and my experience as a young Black woman. I am hyper-aware of these experiences of sexual harassment and the fact they occur around me and throughout this country every day. Because of my awareness of these issues, and my inability to escape not just the male gaze, but also the pressure of White Western beauty standards, as mentioned in the report, I would consider myself, and most young Black women, to be significantly affected by the threat of such harassment and the mental toll it comes with.

“Speaking as a student, I believe that universities could be doing more to combat these sorts of behaviours, not just on campus but as students graduate and begin adulthood. Whilst at York we do have a basic sexual consent module that we must complete during fresher’s week, this takes just around an hour to complete and is a one-off requirement. It also doesn’t go into this sort of casualised harassment.”

‘Violent misogyny is being promoted on TikTok and there is a normalisation of racism and a portrayal of exoticism’

Zara Sharif took interest in the educational element of the report. She said: “The internalised dismissal needs to stop. Public sexual harassment should not be viewed as mundane so it is interesting how, in relation to education, how young women learn to normalise this harassment and how young men learn to be doing this and this interest in the age of social media. Violent misogyny is being promoted on TikTok and there is a normalisation of racism and a portrayal of exoticism, making racial sexual harassment seem normal.”

‘One solution is believed to help everybody but this is not the case.’

In the concluding Q&A, it was asked: “What does the media need to do to get people to understand and listen to Black and minoritised girls’ experiences of sexual harassment?” Maryam answered, saying that: “The normalisation has become so entrenched to the point that it is ignored so it never appears to be worthy of being a headline.”

Amy contributed by saying: “Sexual harassment isn’t talked about as a whole, which affects everybody similarly when this is not true. One solution is believed to help everybody but this is not the case.” Another audience member added: “Within certain communities, girls are being sexually harassed by members of their own communities and therefore, cannot speak up. We need to make sure we raise a voice for these victims.”

Finally, Emma Jackson concluded with: “I hope this project will impact policy and also feed into more research on this topic”, a wish which was shared by the rest of the researchers, the panellists, and the audience.

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