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Sexual assault, sexual violence and sexual harassment are global issues.

  • The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention highlighted that “sexual violence is common”, with 1 in 3 women experiencing sexual harassment in a public space in the US.
  • In Australia, the Institute of Health and Welfare released data that 2 million adults had experienced at least one sexual assault since age of 15, and that police recorded sexual assaults were 7x higher for women than men.
  • In the UK, UN Women UK survey in 2021 showed that 97% of women between the ages of 18 and 24 have been sexual harassed, and that 80% of respondents had been sexually harassed in a public space.
  • In Canada, 1 in 17 women will be raped in her lifetime, and 1 in 4 girls have been sexual assaulted by the time they are 18.

In March 2021, a 33-year-old woman named Sarah Everard was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a serving Metropolitan Police Officer as she walked home alone in London, UK.

Sarah Everard’s case prompted thousands of women to share their stories and fears about their safety when walking alone. In response, the hashtag “not all men” started trending, as men expressed feeling vilified over the issue. “Reclaim These Streets” protests then took place across the UK, with protestors voicing their frustration about being unsafe walking alone.

Poppy Murray, who was 28 at the time of Sarah’s murder and had many friends living in London, was profoundly affected by Sarah’s story, and followed the case online, as well as in conversation with her friends and family. Amongst the noise of “not all men”, she saw a post from a man online asking, “what can I, as a man, do to help?”. Poppy then saw another post from a mother, asking how to educate her son to be an ally to women. Poppy noticed that neither question had received a response.

Poppy began researching what information was available to answer these questions. She found many campaigns aimed at victims, and campaigns aimed at perpetrators, but nothing at all aimed at men who wanted to help women feel safer walking alone.

Poppy then created a campaign called BE GUYS. BE GUYS is an acronym for practical, simple and free advice that can be followed by anyone to help women feel safer walking alone. (In the UK, the campaign is called BE LADS, with “lads” being a more recognised term than “guys”.)

Sexual abuse and sexual violence disproportionately affect women as victims. Perpetrators of these crimes are disproportionately male. BE GUYS recognises that, while most perpetrators are men, most men are not threats to women and want to help.

BE GUYS explains the issue without vilifying men and, instead, gives them advice on the role they can play in being allies to women and to support all members of the public, including their family, friends, colleagues and peers.

BE GUYS quickly gained traction within educational settings, law enforcement and community groups. The continued widespread success of the BE GUYS campaign evidences the value of the message and the advantages of an all-inclusive campaign which is suitable for, and relevant to, all demographics.

Be visible

It can be very intimidating to anyone walking alone to know that someone is there, but not being able to see them clearly.

If you appear to be trying to hide your identity – for example by having your hood up or walking the shadows – then it will likely increase the chance that someone will consider you to be a threat.

By making sure you are visible will help others to know that you are not a threat.

Ease the tension by making a phone call

Silence can be scary, particularly when you are walking alone. If you can make a phone call while you’re walking, then it can help to ease the tension with those walking around you. If someone can hear that you are not talking about them and are occupied with your own conversation, it will help to alleviate their fears about your intentions.

Give her space

Everyone has the right to reach their destination safely. If you choose to walk, then walking in the same direction as a woman alone may be unavoidable, but you can give her space by:

  • crossing to to the opposite side of the road if another sidewalk is available;
  • dropping back to increase the space between you and the other person; or
  • by clearly saying “just passing” or “on you right/left” if you are passing or overtaking someone.

By giving her space, you will help to indicate that you are not a threat and will make her feel more comfortable and safer.

Urge other men to be respectful

If you see a woman being harassed or being made to feel uncomfortable, then step in. Ask the woman if she knows the man/men and whether she wants/needs any help.

When we are at school, we are all taught that if you witness bullying then you have a responsibility to help – either by stepping in or reporting the bullying to a teacher. We learn that if you witness bullying and do nothing about it, then you are enabling the bully to continue with their actions.

The same is true when it comes to harassment, abuse and assault, whether verbal, emotional or physical.

If you are out and you witness inappropriate behaviour directed at someone else, then you have a responsibility to help and be an active bystander. You do not need to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, or puts you in danger, but you can:

  • report the incident to staff if the incident occurs at a venue;
  • report the incident to police;
  • ask the victim if they want or need any help;
  • call out your friend if they are acting inappropriately; or

interject if someone is harassing, abusing or making someone feel uncomfortable

You might be staring, distance yourself

We all do it – we let our mind wander and perhaps do not pay attention to where we are looking. If you are staring at someone who is on their own, then it will likely make them feel uncomfortable.

By being aware of where your gaze is falling, you can help to ensure that you are not inadvertently staring at someone.

Suggest walking your friend home

Sadly, when it comes to sexual abuse and sexual violence, the odds are disproportionately stacked against women as victims. It is not safe for women to walk alone, and they may be afraid to do so.

If someone you know is planning to walk alone, ask whether they are comfortable doing so, or whether they would like you to walk with them. If it is not practical to walk with them, you could offer to stay on the phone to them until they have arrived safely at their destination.

It is important not to offer to walk a stranger home, unless they have asked for your help.

There may be many reasons why someone may be uncomfortable at the prospect of you walking with them, even though your intentions are in the right place. You should respect this and not take it personally if someone would rather walk alone.

For more information, or to find out how the BE LADS campaign can be delivered in your local community, school or business, please email or complete the form below:

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