Thursday, 26 November 2015

Sexual and street harassment (27 November 2016)

Parveen Ali, Guest Editor

'Not a single day goes by that I am not leered at, growled at, spat on, stalked or called a “fuhus” (prostitute). A couple of months ago, I was assaulted by a group of teenage boys 20 feet from my front door. Though I’ve never been raped, I am violated every day by strangers on the street. And I am merely one of millions of women who endure sexual harassment and assault in public spaces from Cairo to Istanbul to New York, the birthplace of the international anti-street harassment movement' (Alyson Neel, 2013)

Sexual violence refers to ‘any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments, or advances, or acts to traffic or otherwise directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person, regardless of their relationship to the victim in any setting, including but not limited to home and work’ (World Health Organisation 2011). Sexual violence is committed by intimate partners, non-partners (strangers, acquaintance or family member). Evidence suggests that the majority of women subjected to sexual violence are likely to know their perpetrator. Sexual violence is also a common phenomenon in situations of war and other form of humanitarian crises.

Sexual harassment and street harassment are two common forms of gender based violence that affect the lives of millions of women in private as well as the public sphere of life. Such acts are experienced in places, considered safe, such as the workplace, schools, colleges and universities. The perpetrators may include co-workers, peers and teachers. Street harassment, on the other hand, is experienced by a vast majority of girls and women while on the way to and from school and work. Acts such as verbal comments, leering, unwanted touching and physics, contact, coercing individual into complying with sexual demands and stalking. Evidence suggests that 40-50% of women in European countries are subjected to sexual harassment at work. Prevalence of sexual harassment in Asian countries including Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, and South Korea is reported to be 30-40% (UNIFEM 2010). Despite, high prevalence, sexual harassment often remains unreported due to family pressure, stigma, lack of available reporting mechanism, and fear of repercussions. It is often the victim who gets blamed for sexual harassment and, therefore, has to suffer a negative impact (UNIFEM 2010).

The vast majority of nurses and health care professionals are women and, therefore, it is no surprise that many of them are exposed to sexual harassment. A recent systematic review highlights that nearly 40% of nurses are exposed to bullying and 25% of nurses are subjected to sexual harassment in various countries. The countries include Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, England, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, U.S., Taiwan, Thailand and Turkey (Spector et al. 2014).

Factors such as traditional social and gender norms, status of women, availability and implementation of appropriate policies, and legislations may impact on the prevalence of sexual violence including sexual harassment. Sexual and street harassment need to be incorporated in policy and legislation aimed at averting and responding to sexual violence. Reporting of such incidence should be encouraged. In addition, increasing awareness and training about how to deal with sexual harassment may help women deal with situation. Appropriate support from colleagues, friends and family members is invaluable and can help women develop their confidence.


Spector, P. E., Zhou, Z. E., & Che, X. X. (2014). Nurse exposure to physical and nonphysical violence, bullying, and sexual harassment: A quantitative review. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 5, 72-84.

UNIFEM, (2010). The Facts: Violence against Women & Millennium Development Goals., UNIFEM, New York. (Accessed November 22, 2015)

World Health Organisation. (2011) Violence against women – Intimate partner and sexual violence against women. Geneva, World Health Organization.

World Health Organisation (2012). Understanding and addressing violence against women. Sexual Violence. Available at (Accessed November 22, 2015)

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