Last week Agenda, an organisation focused on safeguarding vulnerable women and girls, published survey findings on the experiences of women who have been sexually harassed whilst accessing public services, including mental health services.
Content warning: this article discusses sexual harassment and assault.
Agenda’s poll stated that over 1 in 10 (11%) of women who have reported sexual harassment, experienced it in public spaces, whilst accessing services. These spaces include benefit offices, hostels and mental health units.
The women and girls accessing these services are often in marginalised positions.
For example, those who are living below the poverty line, homeless women who are misusing drugs and those who have existing mental health conditions and are therefore even more vulnerable.
These instances of sexual harassment in places where women and girls are supposed to be kept safe by the people running the services, has a re-traumatising effect on the women which can then in turn leave them at even greater risk.
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As a part of this survey, women were also asked if they think that staff in public services should be trained to identify and how to appropriately respond to sexual harassment.
When asked this, 82% agreed with the statement.
Agenda also acknowledged in this report, that these services that are being accessed by extremely vulnerable and disadvantaged women, are dominated by men. This unfortunately means these women are at even higher risk than women who are not accessing these services.
The survey also found that 13% of women experienced sexual harassment from someone coming into their home or who they do not live with, examples of these include housing officers, hostel staff and mental health staff, whether this be staff working in hospitals or the community.
Amanda, a woman who experienced sexual harassment at a hostel said:
“When I lived in a hostel, I stood there crying trying to push a man out of my door. I didn’t report it because I didn’t feel safe to but this type of harassment should be recognised by staff. I think because mental health and homelessness and drug and alcohol are so male dominated women get ignored. Often staff will dismiss your experience – that dismissive element puts you on the back foot. It’s a bit like gas lighting.”
Jess Southgate, CEO of Agenda has commented on the report’s findings saying “Many women who face multiple disadvantages have already faced a lifetime of violence, abuse and trauma. When they turn to services for help, they should not expect to face this kind of treatment.”
To finish, Southgate added that in order for preventing these highly vulnerable women from being traumatised further, which will no doubt lead to more severe mental health struggles in their future, “We must see more funding for specialist women’s services to support women and girls who have faced harassment. The government must work across departments and with public services to help prevent the most disadvantaged women and girls from experiencing sexual harassment.”
If you have been a victim of any sexual violence you can access support and advice:
at the Rape Crisis live chat, or advice from the ACAS helpline at 0300 123 1110.
You can also contact Victim Support for free 24/7 on their suppportline at: 08 08 16 89 111 or start a live chat with their support team here.