Current events

90% of young women who are harassed in the street receive no help from passers-by

  harassment in the street

The study, carried out by Plan International with support from the UOC, collected 879 testimonies from girls and women from 15 to 25 years old. (Foto: Plan Internacional)

78% of young women in Madrid, Seville and Barcelona have suffered harassment in the street, according to the "Safer Cities for Girls" report

The study, carried out by Plan International with support from the UOC, collected 879 testimonies from girls and women from 15 to 25 years old

In 59% of cases the perpetrator is a sole male, but 34% report being harassed by a group of men

Street harassment is such a common form of aggression that one in five of its victims have normalized it. Furthermore, 90% of the young women who have been harassed in the street state that they received no help from bystanders, according to the Safer Cities for Girls report, prepared by the NGO Plan International with support from the UOC.

Almost 8 in every 10 young women in Madrid, Seville and Barcelona have been the victims of street harassment, according to the study based on the experiences of 879 girls and young women, aged between 15 and 25, from the three Spanish cities. When they are harassed, only 3% of girls report it to the authorities or law enforcement agencies, generally doing no more than recounting the experience to family or friends.

These are some of the main findings of the research carried out as part of the Safer Cities for Girls project, funded by the European Commission, based on 3,000 experiences reported on a website running in Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Brussels, Amberes and Charleroi. This platform allows young women to mark on a map of their city locations where they have felt safe or unsafe, giving reasons why, together with other details about the incident, such as whether they received help or not.


Mechanisms for protecting young women

Generally, young women employ individual strategies to protect themselves and help them feel safer, including seeking company, so they don't have to walk alone, modifying their routes, dressing differently, or listening to music to avoid hearing comments. Girls' use of mobile phones is especially significant: they pretend to be talking to somebody, share their location in real time, tell people when they have arrived at their destination and, sometimes, photograph the harasser.

 "In 66% of cases, they report that they are harassed for being female. This is gender-based discrimination that has a real impact on young women's lives, as they do not feel free or safe. Spanish legislation does not, however, cover street harassment. Plan International is calling for legislation aimed at preventing, detecting, reporting, punishing and eradicating this type of violence," said Begoa Solrzano, Plan International Spain's Local Programmes Director.

"The research highlights the experiences shared by girls and young women in their lives, and the analysis carried out has given us a better understanding of their perceptions. The research is a prime example of knowledge transfer intended to have a real impact on society by examining the issue of street harassment in depth and identifying priority measures for tackling it," said Silvia Martnez, a researcher from the UOC's GAME research group who worked on this project with her colleague, Candela Oll. The researchers were involved in collecting and analysing the data used in the study. As experts in quantitative and qualitative research methodologies, they analysed the data obtained for Plan International. They also participated in the design of the scripts to be used in the focus group sessions with young women and the interviews with experts, and in interpreting the results.

The young women and girls pointed out that, as their movements and use of public spaces have been restricted in lockdown, street harassment has moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic, as young people make wider use of social networks for studying, socializing and entertainment.

77% of the cases of street harassment suffered by girls in these cities did not involve physical contact, and included staring, wolf-whistles, being chased, comments and insinuations. The greatest number of cases with no physical contact occurred in Seville (81%) followed by Madrid (79%) and Barcelona (71%). On average, 9% of cases of street harassment in the three cities involved physical contact, with differences between the cities: 15% in Barcelona; 8% in Seville and 7% in Madrid.

In most cases, young women are harassed by sole males (59%), but harassment by a group of men also occurs frequently, in 34% of cases. On average, 12% of the respondents report that their harassers appeared to be under the effect of alcohol or other drugs.

43% of the incidents of harassment experienced in the three cities took place in the street. They also report feeling unsafe in parks and open spaces as well as in public transport stations.

In general, the factors that make young women feel less safe are linked to places where there are few passers-by, in side streets, or far from places of reference such as home or school. Places perceived by young women as safe, on the other hand, are "busy areas" (26%); with "good infrastructure" (26%) or where there are "police or security guards" (24%).

With regard to the time of day, 54% of cases of street harassment occurred at night or in the early morning. Many young women feel unsafe most of the time, however, with 20% reporting being harassed "at any time of day". In Seville 25% of cases of harassment were reported as taking place "at any time of day" while the figure for Madrid was 19% and Barcelona 12%.

When travelling at night, young women also feel restricted: they tend to avoid public transport and opt to take a taxi whenever possible: "At night I take a taxi or ask around my friends if anyone is driving so I don't have to go home alone or on the bus...," said a young women from Seville who was interviewed for the study.


Recommendations for making cities safer

Since 2018 Plan International has been calling on authorities to adopt measures to develop inclusive cities where girls and young women feel free and safe. To do this, the organization recommends:

1. Legislation aimed at preventing, detecting, reporting, punishing and eradicating street harassment, providing training and resources to police and security forces so they can act on reports.

2. Better city planning, employing a gender perspective in the design and planning of urban spaces, responding to the specific needs of girls and young women.

3. Ensuring both formal and informal high-quality inclusive education on an equal basis to eradicate gender stereotypes and act as a tool for preventing all forms of gender violence, including street harassment.

4. Increasing the resources for attending to young women who have suffered harassment in public spaces, providing psychosocial services in all areas, taking into account that harassment can take place anywhere.

5. Encouraging young people to get involved in the design of safer cities, taking into account their experiences, demands and needs.

6. Raising awareness and publicizing municipal initiatives to prevent and deal with street harassment, through campaigns on relevant, accessible platforms.

7. Strengthening security measures, with a focus on prevention, especially in the spaces considered least safe.

8. Encouraging a broader view of harassment as a form of gender violence and way of preventing girls and young women participating in public life, that can also be translated to the online world.

For more information, please, click here


This UOC research contributes to sustainable development goals (SDG) 5, Gender Equality, 10, Reduced Inequalities and 16, Peace, Justics and Strong Institutions.


Plan Internacional

Plan International is an organization that strives for a just world that advances children’s rights and equality for girls. It started in Spain in 1937. Throughout its 80-year history, Plan International has built strong alliances to support children's rights from birth to adulthood. It currently carries out projects in 75 countries that directly benefit 17.1 million girls and 15.5 million boys. The organization has been an advisory member of the United Nations Economic and Social Council since 1981 and is audited by PwC. Its fulfilment of the principles of transparency and management is certified by Fundacin Lealtad.



The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) is helping overcome pressing challenges faced by global societies in the 21st century, by studying interactions between technology and human & social sciences with a specific focus on the network society, e-learning and e-health. Over 500 researchers and 51 research groups work among the University's seven faculties and two research centres: the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) and the eHealth Center (eHC).

The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and open knowledge serve as strategic pillars for the UOC's teaching, research and innovation. More information: #UOC25years


Photograph of Silvia Martnez Martnez

Silvia Martnez Martnez

Lecturer in the the Information and Communication Sciences Department
Coordinator of the Information and Communication Sciences Department's postgraduate programme

Expert in: Journalism and digital communication; specialized information; social networks; user consumption, usage and participation.

Knowledge area: Communication and journalism.

View file
Photograph of Candela Oll Castell

Candela Oll Castell

Lecturer in the Information and Communication Sciences Department
Director of the Master's Degree in Digital Journalism and Communication

Expert in: Information-seeking and digital behaviour; bibliometrics; library science; open access; e-books and e-journals; audiovisual documentation.

Knowledge area: Communication, information and documentation.

View file

Related links