One in three teenage girls fear being followed by a stranger, according to new research by the University of York and young people's charity The Children's Society.
The charity's annual survey of the wellbeing of 10- to 17-year-olds in Britain found that fear of crime was the most widespread issue cited, affecting an estimated 2.2 million teenagers in the UK.
Girls were particularly afraid of being followed by strangers, with 34% citing that fear compared to 19% of boys.
Boys were more likely to fear being physically assaulted, and 38% of teenagers surveyed overall said they were worried about being the victims of multiple crimes or antisocial behaviour.
"Me and my friend were at the park and then there was this flasher and he came out of the woods and we just ran," an 11-year-old girl who participated in the survey said.
A secondary-school pupil described being scared when men driving past her "wind down their window and like proper look out the window and go slow", in testimony collected during the research.
“I was walking back from school and the taxi man pulled up and said, do you want a free ride?” said another.
More than one girl interviewed reported being made to feel uncomfortable by men in cars "beeping" at them, including when they were in their school uniforms.
“I was with my dad walking and these men in a van beeped at me and my dad shouted ‘she’s 14’ and they drove off,” one teenage girl said.
The threat of sexual violence was cited as a reason for teenage girls' fear of strangers following them.
“There’s been a lot of things happening near the river and there have been rapes, round there is pretty sketchy," one girl said. "My parents always warn me to stay safe."
Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism campaign, told BuzzFeed News she believed the Children's Society's report reflected a "sad but accurate portrayal of the reality of girls' lives".
"We must tackle offenders, and give all young people better education about their rights, about sexual harassment and about consent," Bates said. "No girl should have to live her life in fear of being sexually harassed or assaulted, and it is a sad indictment of our society in 2017 that so many still do."
She added: "From their early teens, or even younger, [girls] are becoming accustomed to regular sexual harassment and abuse, whether from strangers on the street, on public transport, or from peers at school."
A spokesperson for the charity Rape Crisis said the report highlighted the impact of sexualised street harassment that young women routinely face from strangers, even though the majority of sexual violence is perpetrated by someone known to the victim.
"It's essential that we challenge the normalisation of this kind of behaviour, including through awareness-raising and education around respect, equality, and consent," the spokesperson told us.
Rachel Krys, codirector of the campaign group End Violence Against Women, said this sort of harassment can have a huge impact on the wellbeing of young women.
"It's disgusting that some men continue to feel entitled to intimidate and harass girls and young women as they go about their lives," Krys told BuzzFeed News.
"Young women and girls we've spoken to say the harassment can turn threatening and sometimes racist – intimidation which prevents them from feeling free to be outside safely. We have to take this behaviour much more seriously, sending a clear message to the perpetrators that it's a completely unacceptable violation."
Crime was the most widespread fear of at least seven serious problems that The Children's Society's 2017 Good Childhood report found to be seriously impacting teenagers' wellbeing.
More government funding for children's services, which face a predicted shortfall of £2 billion by 2020, is key to addressing these issues impacting young people's wellbeing, according to The Children's Society. The charity also called for increased collaboration between local government, police forces, schools, and other services working to support teenagers.
Fifty-three per cent of those surveyed said that they had experienced three or more hardships in the last five years – such as neglect, homelessness, and having a parent with a serious illness – that had made them significantly unhappy. The report found that teenagers were their unhappiest since 2010.
“Teenagers are coming under pressure in all areas of their lives, whether it’s being afraid to walk down their street, worrying about money, or having a parent who’s seriously unwell and this is damaging their wellbeing," said Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society.
"Sadly we know many of these teenagers will only get help if they reach crisis point. Children are increasingly finding themselves with nowhere to turn, putting them at greater risk."
Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Laura Silver at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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