Two women sitting on a bench outside a cafe.
Vanessa and her friend Eloise, on a visit to London’s West End. Photo: Adrian Zorzut, LDR.

From being rubbed up against to being catcalled — women across London have explained why a campaign to stop sexual harassment in the capital is desperately needed.

The West End attracts all types of people thanks to its vibrant party scene, threatres and its sought-after restaurants.

But what should be an area of fun has become one of harassment and abuse for many women.

Gulra, who works in the City but ventures into the West End on weekends, says she’s regularly subjected to subjected to abuse from men.

She said: “I have been living in London for 12 years and some of the behaviours I have experienced have been appalling. I’ve experienced verbal abuse, whistling and it normally happens after midnight.”

She said the abuse can get so bad she’s left constantly looking over her shoulder.

She continued: “At night, I don’t want to be in a vulnerable position so I think about how I am can get back home. I try to stay cautious about where I walk.

“[The abuse] kind of happens in alleyways or if you’re not in a crowded area. You feel you need to look behind your shoulder.”

Vanessa, 26, said she and her friends often feel uneasy on nights out.

She said: “I live in Westminster and I never feel safe… I have had friends who have experienced some abuse.”

A mum and her daughter, 28 and 67, said women constantly have to put up with things that men don’t.

The daughter said: “I’ve had all types of abuse from someone having an erection and pushing up against me, to catcalling. It’s so systematic and I think now things are more divided that men are more hateful towards women.”

Her mother said: “I feel that woman experience a lot of unpleasant things and I have had to put up with a lot myself. I think trying anything worthwhile [to stop it] is good. Having been a teacher there is lots that can be done by people like speaking events at school to raise awareness.”

It comes as Westminster Council last week launched a £289k campaign to tackle women’s safety concerns on nights out.

Dubbed “It’s Her City Too”, the campaign uses social media videos and advertising on Transport for London services to encourage people to call out abuse when they see it.

Some £70k of the funds is also going into expanding the Night Stars Service patrols, which is made up of a team volunteers who people get home at night.

The programme also includes the creation of safe havens around the city, a business accreditation scheme, night safety walks and women’s safety training for business staff.

The training complements existing schemes such as “Ask for Angela” and Welfare and Vulnerability Engagement (WAVE) training to encourage early interventions and support from businesses to their customers.

Over the last year, there has been an 11 percent increase in sexual offences in the borough with a shocking 84 percent of those victims being women, according to the council.

A Westminster Council survey found that a third of women in the borough had experienced harassment on the street, and 45 percent reported feeling unsafe at night. In 2021, the most common crimes were violence and sexual offences, which the council claim was particularly high in the West End.

Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communities and Public Protection Cllr Aicha Less said: “The West End should be a fun and safe place for our residents and visitors to enjoy. Everyone, especially women, shouldn’t have to deal with sexual harassment.

“I’ve lived in Westminster all my life and want others to experience the exciting and fun city that I know. But as the mother of two daughters who grew up in Central London, I understand the anxieties parents have when their children go out.

“As part of our Fairer Communities commitment, we don’t want anyone to feel unsafe or have their night ruined by the pathetic behaviour of certain individuals and are calling for everyone to take responsibility for the behaviour of others.”

For one of the women, the campaign it a step in the right direction. She said: “Lots of people have said it is hard to stop but it’s even harder for women to experience. Any measures to stop women feeling unsafe when they walk the streets is good.”

Gulra added: “It’s great… but I think it should be starting from an early age. I can get the public being understanding about it but for a women to be safe in the streets, it more or less needs other people to be aware of some of those behaviours they are showing.”

Westminster City Council: Night Safety in Westminster.

Westminster City Council: Westminster Night Safety Training.