She said: “The first time I was harassed was in the summer of year six when I was still in primary school. I was walking down my local high street in broad daylight. A car slowed down beside me, and a man leaned out to make sexual remarks about my body that I didn’t even understand. “I don’t remember many things about being 11-years-old, but this incident has stayed with me.”
Gemma, who lives in south-east England, said PSH makes her “feel bad” about her body, as well as “ashamed”.
She is campaigning for PSH to be made a criminal offence, as well as for the issue to be part of the secondary school curriculum.
The Daily Express is backing these calls in a bid to help stamp out the issue and make Britain’s streets safer for women.
Gemma said: “[PSH] weighs on me every day, causing me to change my route to school and training. My heart tightens and beats faster when cars slow near me and I have to cross the road when walking past groups of men.
“Additionally, alongside 33 per cent of LGBTQ, I have felt extremely uncomfortable and anxious when holding my girlfriend’s hand, with older men staring and leering at us.
“It made it hard for me to feel happy and confident with my newfound pride, scared that someone could do the same to me as the lesbian couple on the bus who were attacked in London last year.”
Our Streets Now and children’s charity Plan International UK are running the Crime Not Compliment crusade to bring about a change in the law.
Rose Caldwell, chief executive of Plan International UK, said all women and girls should feel safe in public spaces, instead of being followed, shouted at, touched and groped.
She said: “Currently, there is no UK law that fully criminalises public sexual harassment, leaving perpetrators to get away with it.
“As one girl told us, you can be fined for dropping litter in the UK, but not for harassing a woman or girl in public. This cannot be right.
“Funding will help, but only by enacting legal change will we start to see a cultural shift, so that girls and women will finally begin to feel safe in public spaces.”
Downing Street said this week it was taking a series of “immediate steps” to improve security, including the nationwide rollout of a pilot programme dubbed Project Vigilant.
Plain clothes officers will attend areas around clubs and bars, along with increased police patrols as people leave at closing time.
It also wants to double the Safer Streets fund to £45million to improve street lighting and CCTV.
Comment by Gemma Tutton
My name is Gemma Tutton, I’m 16-years-old and the first time I was sexually harassed was in the summer of year six, when I was still in primary school.
I was then, and am now, a child.
It happened on my local high street in broad daylight.
A car slowed down beside me, and a man leaned out to make crude, sexual remarks about my body that I didn’t even understand.
To this day, this incident has stayed with me.
And I’m not alone: according to research by Plan International UK over half of girls and young women experienced public sexual harassment over summer.
And two-thirds of schoolgirls have experienced unwanted sexual attention in public.
The impact of this on girls is huge, making them feel anxious, unsafe and ashamed.
I’m no different: my heart tightens and beats faster when cars slow down near me and I have to cross the road when walking past groups of men.
This fear felt by girls, young women and people of marginalised genders negatively affects our mental health and forces us to change our behaviour.
It’s important to highlight that although public sexual harassment is experienced by most girls, it is not experienced in the same way.
It is an issue that disproportionately affects people of colour, members of the LGBTQ+ community and disabled women.
Alongside 33 percent of LGBTQ+ people, I have felt extremely uncomfortable and anxious when holding my girlfriend’s hand, with older men staring and leering at us.
And the perpetrators are allowed to get away with it, because currently there is no UK law that fully criminalises public sexual harassment.
This glaring legal gap leaves girls and women unprotected, fearing that if they do report harassment, they won’t be taken seriously, or nothing will be done.
This week, we have seen women protest because enough is enough: half the population cannot flourish if we feel scared every time we step outside.
That’s why we are campaigning for a change to UK law through our #CrimeNotCompliment campaign so that girls and women can finally live a life without fear.
Will you join us?
• Gemma Tutton is the co-founder of Our Streets Now.