How COVID Has Terrifyingly Enabled Street Violence Against Women

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How COVID Has Enabled Street Violence Against Women

Not even stay-at-home orders and social-distancing can protect women from sexual harassment in public places. In fact, COVID-19 restrictions have only made things worse. 

Women around the world know that the simple act of taking up space in public can expose them to everything from catcalling to assault

It doesn’t matter if you’re walking late at night or first thing in the morning, going to the store, or heading into a nightclub. Being outdoors as a woman means constantly having your guard up in fear of experiencing a verbal or physical attack

Over the last year, it didn’t seem absurd to think that having more restrictions, curfews, and barriers in place would somewhat curb the amount of street harassment women face on a daily basis. 

But new research shows that the opposite is true with more women feeling fearful and unsafe in public than before the pandemic.

According to a survey by L’Oreal Paris and Ipsos, even during a global health crisis street harassment remains a top issue of concern for women. 

The online survey spoke to 15,500 people of all ages, across eight countries, representing a range of cultures and societies. Participants were interviewed about their experiences of harassment both as victims and witnesses.

The alarming figures revealed by the survey expose just how little is being done to protect women on our streets.

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Women make daily life-debilitating decisions just to avoid harassment. 

Coronavirus restrictions have altered and inhibited everything from travel to eating out, but for women, there are invisible restrictions created by the threat of harassment. 

Approximately 75% of women admitted to avoiding certain places in fear that they would experience harassment there. This is a 10% increase over 2019 figures. 

Women are more cautious about going out having witnessed and experienced increased verbal and physical assaults since the beginning of the pandemic. 

A startling one in three women has experienced at least one situation of sexual harassment since the beginning of 2020. This figure is staggering considered how little time we spend out and about these days.

At least 59% of women alter their clothing and appearance to avoid sexual harassment, exposing the direct effect of the shame women experience over their appearance when they are victims of sexual abuse. This figure has increased by 9% in the past year. And 54% of women avoid certain public transport to attempt to escape harassment, another 10% increase over last year’s figures. 

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The pandemic has added a new dimension of fear to street harassment. 

While their attackers can hide behind masks and lurk in the shadows of now-empty streets, women are struggling with social anxiety and fear when they make essential journeys to grocery stores and healthcare clinics. 

According to the survey, 72% of respondents feel that wearing a mask allows the harassers to hide and feel untouchable. It also makes them more difficult to identify. Women cannot even go to the police or seek to avoid these abusers since they have no way of seeing what they look like. 

The mental and physical health impacts of the pandemic are already overwhelming for women without this added layer of vulnerability and fear. 

All genders must seek to protect vulnerable groups from harassment in public so everyone can feel safe on our streets. To learn how to advocate for yourself and others in situations of harassment sign up for a Stand Up To Street Harassment class here

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment.