Though many think of sexual assault as something that happens behind closed doors, sexual assault in public places is common and raises some troubling, unique issues. In fact, research has shown that most people experience their first incident of sexual harassment or sexual assault in a public place. Many of these sexual assaults in public places go unreported: only one in 10 women and one in 20 men report these sexual assaults to the police or authorities. Sexual assault takes many forms: unwanted physical contact, exhibitionism, attempted rape, or verbal sexual harassment, among others. Nationwide, 81% of women and 43% of men are sexually assaulted or harassed in their lifetime.
There are unique issues to stopping a sexual assault in public places. While being sexually assaulted, many victims feel confused, ashamed, and like they are to blame. To scream or yell would bring attention to the assault. This may perpetuate feelings of shame and confusion as strangers in a public setting become aware of something deeply personal and violative to the victim. Victims may also fear the assailant has a weapon and will hurt them if they cry out. Fear of being blamed, embarrassed, or physically hurt may lead victims to endure a sexual assault in a public setting, rather than make a scene to try to end the assault.
Public spaces like parks and public transportation are particularly dangerous for minors, especially those traveling alone or without an adult supervisor. For minors, these interactions can be particularly confusing and shocking. When Poppy Noor rode the bus alone at 12, she did not react to a stranger’s hand on her thigh. She thought it had been an accident, or she was being too sensitive, confused about why it would happen. She never reported it to anyone.
For adults, sexual assaults are more likely to happen in bars, public transportation, or the work place. Frequently, women express that unwanted sexual contact in these places seems inevitable and normal. Women may swap stories or share tricks for avoiding or reacting to unwanted advances in public places. Though the issue is prevalent, reports of assaults continue to trail far behind the number of actual occurrences. To battle this, the UK has made considerable effort to increase reports of sexual assault and harassment. In 2016, British Transport Police collected 1,448 reports of sexual assaults, most of which occurred during rush hour. As a result, London launched the Report It to Stop It campaign, encouraging women to report any behavior on the underground subway system that made them feel uncomfortable. The campaign aimed to reverse the normalization of sexual assault on public transit and to disrupt recidivist offenders. In the first year of the campaign, officials observed a 33% increase in reports and a 36% increase in arrests. The campaign serves as a model, proving that encouraging reports of inappropriate sexual behavior leads to accountability for assailants.
Research has found that sexual assaults happen in all kinds of public places and at all hours of day, regardless of how many other people are around. Sexual assault is never your fault. It is important to report any unwanted sexual contact or harassment to authorities. Contact Koller Law to learn more about your rights in the civil judicial system.