GREEN BAY (NBC26) — A recent study found most young women in the United Kingdom have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public places.
Holli Fisher, program manager for the Sexual Assault Center of Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin, said that number isn't surprising and it's likely a similar statistic in the United States and Wisconsin.
“I don’t think there’s a woman I’ve come across who hasn’t been, you know, cat called or given a “compliment” to," Fisher said. "So it’s definitely very prevalent in our society.”
Fisher said sexual harassment is defined as any unwanted verbal language directed toward someone of a sexual nature.
Respondents in the UK study stated their experiences included unwelcome sexual advances, comments or jokes, indecent exposure, being cat-called, groped, touched, physically followed and receiving suggestive content online or in-person.
Of the 1,089 women surveyed, 95 percent said they didn't report the sexual harassment.
“Many victims of sexual harassment don’t reach out at that point, because they don’t think it’s maybe “bad enough” to receive assistance for," Fisher said. "So there are many women who have experienced this type of abuse who don’t come forward."
Fisher said most people don't reach out for help until after a sexual assault has already occurred.
She said sexual harassment falls on the continuum of sexually violent behaviors, with jokes about sexism on the lower end and harassing statements toward the middle. She said these actions make people feel more comfortable with committing acts of harassment and assault.
"In essence what society is doing is objecting the target of this harassment, and when we objectify people we see them as less human," Fisher said.
The UK study found more than 70 percent of women surveyed had been sexually harassed in bars, at certain events, on public transportation, in streets, parks and on social media.
Christine Smith, an associate professor of Psychology and Women & Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, said she was harassed recently while standing outside.
"Somebody yelled something about me being fat," Smith said. "It isn’t always even sexual necessarily, but noting something on someone’s body.”
Smith said there's some psychology behind the issue.
"Oftentimes when this happens by a man - and of course certainly not all men do this - but what you find is often it’s men in groups with other men. It’s often this sort of expression of masculinity, and a way to basically intimidate women and prove your masculinity to other men," Smith said.
In order to change, Smith said people need to teach boys at a young age to evaluate the impact of their words and actions, and teach girls that they shouldn't ignore or downplay issues when they're uncomfortable.
Fisher said it starts in the home.
“When we see these sorts of things happening in the public or the media have conversations with your kids about 'this type of behavior is not okay.' Encourage them to critically think about why this person might be behaving this way and how it might affect the person on the receiving end of this," Fisher said.
Victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault can contact the Sexual Assault Center hotline at 920-436-8899. Advocates are available 24/7 to discuss experiences and share advice on how to cope .