Media Release
80% women out for entertainment at night experience sexual harassment, a new report finds
08 March, 2019

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Matt Levinson

For women out at night in Sydney, sexual harassment is an all too common occurrence but as a new report shows, for those going out for recreation it is even more likely.

New research published on International Women’s Day by the Committee for Sydney, Plan International and Monash University’s XYX Lab, and sponsored by NAB, finds that sexual harassment is the main issue impacting on women at night and highlights the ways they change their behaviour to avoid it.

Alarmingly, there is evidence that for some men sexual harassment is a form of ‘entertainment’ in itself – indeed, groups of men were responsible for a third of all harassment of women out for recreation. Public transport was an issue in 40% of incidents of those commuting for work and 27% of those out for entertainment. The exception to public transport woes were the ferries at Circular Quay, where attentive staff made a significant difference

The research has called for greater investment in public education campaigns to promote safety at night as well as dedicated resources to improve the reporting of incidents of assault and harassment. It also calls for councils to invest in better street lighting, particularly in areas where high levels of harassment are reported. 

This research is based on data analysis by XYX Lab at Monash University, based on the experiences of women in Sydney public spaces during the hours of darkness. This research draws on the data collected as part of the Free to Be project run by Plan International Australia in 2018.The data was compiled using Free to Be, a crowd-mapping survey website that enables women to identify the location of public spaces that make them feel uneasy and scared, or happy and safe, and detail the reasons why.

Women interviewed during the research reported experiences such as:

I never felt safe walking in this area, even if I am not alone. The lighting is terrible and the design of the walkways leaves a lot spots hidden from view. (Central Station, Anytime, Age 19)

I was cat called while waiting at the bus. I catch this bus everyday but whenever it becomes darker, I immediately feel unsafe. I instantly become on object of desire for people to sexualise or treat with disrespect.  (Gardyne Street, Bronte Beach, Age 20)

I no longer walk home from work due to theft reportings, intoxicated people/drug users and feeling unsafe when men walk closely behind me, especially in the unlit, dark parts. I have to drive to the bus stop 5 minutes down the road (which is quite inconvenient for me) to avoid walking alone. (Late night, Age 20)

The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Personal Safety Survey (PSS) found that one in two women (53%) over the age of 18 had experienced sexual harassment during their lifetime. Previous work from Plan International Australia identified that 90% of young women surveyed said they felt unsafe on the streets of Sydney at night and 92% felt uncomfortable taking public transport alone after dark.

Virginia Briggs, Board Member of the Committee for Sydney said:

“Today’s findings show that far too many women are uncomfortable in Sydney’s public spaces at night and many have to put up with regular harassment and assault. Women should be free to go to work or enjoy recreational activities without the looming threat of verbal and physical abuse. We must do more to better plan Sydney at night by improving lighting and the appearance of public spaces, particularly around public transport”.

“The Committee for Sydney believes that a diverse and vibrant night time economy can help to make the city safer at night. More people on the street at night and more activities that promote eating, retail, culture and music can help to make a more pleasant environment after dark. A city that works better for women at night works better for everyone”. 

Susanne Legena, Plan International Australia CEO, said:

“The incessant harassment that women face at night is not only frightening and disempowering, it forces them to adjust their behaviour to stay safe – their ability to access social, work and study opportunities is being restricted.”

“Despite this, young women are rarely given a seat at the decision making tables that shape our city. We must value women’s experiences and opinions and include them in planning processes to make our cities safer for everyone.”

Dr Nicole Kalms, director of Monash University’s XYX Lab said:

“In our analysis it was clear that a majority of women feel unsafe in Sydney after dark and the issue of unpredictable people, mainly due to the effects of drugs or alcohol is a huge concern for women. While intoxication can be seen as part of the ‘fun’ of a night out, alcohol and drugs are strongly associated with sexual violence and can have a serious impact on women’s ability to travel through and be in their city. Understanding the nuances of these relationships is paramount.

These findings are particularly significant for the night-time economy and should make us all consider how we can make the city more accessible and inclusive for women working and trying to enjoy themselves out at night.”

Ann Sherry, NAB Non-Executive Director, said:

“As an employer of 33,000 people, with more than 2000 women in Sydney, NAB is proud to sponsor this research to support and contribute to the development sustainable and safe infrastructure in our community.”

“I encourage you to read this report, and consider the challenges faced by women living and working in Sydney, and how we might come together to continue our commitment to creating a safer city for all”. 

Note to editors:

  1. The Committee for Sydney is an independent think tank and champion for the whole of Sydney, providing thought leadership beyond the electoral cycle. The Committee aims to enhance the economic, social, cultural and environmental conditions that make Sydney a competitive, resilient and liveable global city. The Committee has a diverse membership with over 150 member organisations: including the major corporate sectors driving Sydney’s economy; strategically minded local authorities; key NSW Government departments and agencies; not- for-profit organisations; and leading arts and sporting institutions. Members help develop and deliver priorities, provide expertise and ensure a representative geographical spread across the greater Sydney region.
  2. About Monash University’s XYX Lab: Focusing on women and girls and LGBTIQ communities, the XYX Lab’s team of researchers and designers work collaboratively with architects, urban designers, policy makers and the broader community to address design factors that make cities exclusionary and threatening according to gender.
  3. Plan International is a global independent development and humanitarian organisation. We champion girls’ rights because we know that there is nowhere in the world where girls are treated as equals. We work alongside children, young people, supporters and partners to tackle the root causes of injustices facing girls and the most marginalised children.