On 26 February, during a debate in the Assembly, Sinn Féin MLA Emma Sheerin said:

“One of the statistics that really shocked me was in the 2022 life and times survey, which showed that 75% of the 16-year-olds surveyed had experienced street harassment.”

The same figure was repeated by DUP MLA Harry Harvey:

“The stark reality is that 75% of girls, even at the formative age of 16, have experienced street harassment at least once in their life.”

This claim is backed by evidence.

Specifically, it is one finding from the 2022 Young Life and Times (YLT) Survey, which speaks with 16-year-olds across NI about issues of importance in their lives.

FactCheckNI was also able to identify several other reports with findings that are similar to the result from YLT polling – or at least indicate that this 75% figure isn’t surprising. Our search turned up nothing that contradicts, or even conflicts with, the YLT survey.

If anyone knows of any further information relevant to this check, please get in touch.

  • NILT

The Northern Ireland Life and Times (NILT) Survey is an annual survey of the “attitudes, values and beliefs of adults to a wide range of social policy issues”. It has been conducted every year since 1998, although its questions and specific focuses can change from year to year.

It also has a subsidiary, the Young Life and Times (YLT) Survey, which records the “attitudes and opinions of 16 year olds in Northern Ireland about the issues that concern them” and has been running annually since 2003.

In 2022, the YLT explored experiences of sexual violence and harassment. Some of its findings were outlined in a research paper: Sticks and Stones? Violence experiences of 16-year olds in Northern Ireland.

This includes the finding that 75% of females who responded to the survey (all aged 16) had experienced some form of street harassment:

Figure 1 – source: 2022 YLT

This provides evidence to support the claim. Moreover, the YLT has a solid sample size. The research paper states that:

“2,073 16-year olds took part in 2022. Half of the eligible YLT respondents were asked to complete the questions on gender-based violence, and 1,034 did.”

However, is there any other research that backs up the claim – or, indeed, conflicts with it?

  • Wider view

FactCheckNI looked around for other research relevant to this claim. Some of what we found is outlined below – if any readers know of further information, please get in touch.

The most relevant research we found was Every Voice Matters!, a paper on violence against women and girls produced by Ulster University and published by the Executive Office in September 2023. Its findings include that:

“Harassment or sexual harassment was the most commonly reported type of abuse and occurred for approximately one third of the participants as a child (up to age 11 years). As an adult this was pervasive, with 87% of the participants having reported this experience. Over half of the participants reported experiencing harassment or sexual harassment in the past 12 months.”

The report also found that 82% of females aged between 11 and 18 had at least one experience of harassment/sexual harassment (note that “harassment/sexual harassment” is not an identical concept to “street harassment” but has significant overlap):

Figure 2 – source: Every Voice Matters!

The 2023 Young Life and Times Survey – i.e. the YLT following the one which provides evidence to support this claim – also asked questions about violence against women and girls, although nothing specifically in relation to “street harassment”.

It found that 15% of 16-year-old girls had experienced “violent acts or behaviours” that  were physical violence in the previous year, 23% experienced such acts that were sexual violence, 31% psychological and 39% online:

Figure 3 – source: 2023 YLT

We also contacted some agencies and organisations about this matter, including the Executive Office, asking if they had any further data. Nexus NI got back to us, flagging up several studies, including:

Taking the wider view, we were unable to find any research that contradicts, or even really conflicts with, the findings from the 2022 YLT. Instead, we found plenty of evidence to either support the claim or at least indicate that the 75% figure is unsurprising.

We also emailed both Ms Sheerin and Mr Harvey about the claim although, at the time of writing, neither has replied to us.