LONDON had hundreds of thousands marching last Saturday in support of a second EU referendum. A far more impressive demonstration of people power was to be found in Glasgow this week as striking council staff took to the streets to demand equal pay.

At first I could not work out why the photographs of the protest so gladdened the heart. Certainly, the cause was just, the marchers determined. Then it struck me. They were almost all women. When was the last time women in Glasgow strolled down the street like this, like they owned the place?

These women were not doing the Glasgow “scurry”, as practised by their mothers and grandmothers before them: hunched down, heading into the wind, rushing from one thing to another as if on the run. They were out there, heads up, cool as you like. How gallus; how wonderful; and yes, how depressing something as simple as walking down the street should be so remarkable.

A report published this week by the Commons’ Women and Equalities Committee confirmed what most women and girls already know: we have to be careful out there. We should not need to, it is not us causing the problem, but we do. The committee found that sexual harassment in public places was “a routine and sometimes relentless experience” for women and girls. It took several forms, from catcalling to assault, and there was a new, worrying trend of men watching porn on trains and buses. In total, 64% of women surveyed said they had experienced harassment, with almost the same proportion feeling unsafe on the streets and on public transport, in bars, clubs, and parks.

The report followed a survey by the children’s charity Plan International UK which found one in three girls had been harassed while wearing school uniform, and a quarter reported being filmed or photographed by a stranger. One 17-year-old said: “It has just become normal.”

Women have long known it can be a battlefield out there, but who knew it was such a sewer? And why is this age old problem not only persisting but appearing to grow worse?

As the Commons committee concluded, the damage being done by sexual harassment is far-reaching. There is the harm done by the act itself, and there is the corrosive effect of fear. The way the heart starts to race as you walk home late at night. That prickling of the scalp when it is just you and a man left in a train carriage. The sheer, joy-sapping pain in the neck of having to plan a night out like it was a military incursion into enemy territory. And yes, a lot of us go armed with alarms and other devices.

What a picture of modern Britain is painted by looking at the reviews on Amazon for one of its bestselling rape alarms. “I got three of these for the women in my family,” says one buyer. Others have added: “For peace of mind when teenage daughter is out”; “Makes you feel you have something to turn in your hour of need”; and from one parent, “For my daughter going on her first 5 day festival, peace of mind for both of us.”

It should be recognised that young men are statistically more likely to be the victims of violence in public places, and that men, too, can be harassed. Yet when it comes to sexual harassment, in public or not, it is women who are overwhelmingly the victims and men who are the perpetrators. What we have here is a divide that not only demeans us as a society but has millions living in fear, either for themselves or the women they know.

Only when we stop to think about it does it become clear to women what precise impact sexual harassment, or fear of it, has on their lives. Mostly, it is about limits being imposed. This emerged with harrowing, and often humorous (you’ve got to laugh, etc) clarity on social media recently when one Twitter user, the activist Danielle Muscato, asked women: “What would you do if all men had a 9pm curfew?”

The post soon went viral. A nerve had been touched. One woman said she would walk to her car with her keys in her bag, and not spread between her fingers as a potential weapon. Another would simply walk around, by herself, listening to music. “The mind reels,” said one respondent. “Go dancing? Take a walk? Open the front door without fear?” A man had the grace and honesty to respond: “None of this has ever occurred to me as an issue. I run, I do whatever I want whenever I want. Why aren't women filled with uncontrollable rage all the time?”

Good question. Because it would be exhausting, harmful, and self-defeating. Because we know the majority of men, our partners, brothers, sons, fathers, colleagues, cousins, are on our side against the scummy minority. Because while rage has its place, it is not the way to solve the problem.

How marvellous if life was like a comic book and women could unleash superpowers when under threat. Or if we were all experts in close body combat and possessed of the kind of cast iron confidence that would see us call out harassers. While we are at it, the ability to outrun a jaguar might be handy. In reality, it is left to women to deal with a situation on the street as best they can. Confront, ignore, call the police and hope to God they act: whatever fits.

But why is it up to women to deal with bad behaviour? Why not demand it doesn’t happen in the first place and punish it when it does?

There are practical things that can be done, starting with a crackdown on viewing pornography in a public place. As in other things, my generation probably owes an apology on this one. If I had known that the pillock next to me on the plane looking at so-called glamour shots in a magazine would 20 years later be watching porn on his mobile, I would have done more than dispense a death stare.

Like much else to do with pornography, watching it in public appears to be becoming, in that awful phrase, “the new normal”. It is not clear whether sexual harassment in public places is worse or more prevalent today than it has been. It could be that women are becoming more willing to confront it and talk about it.

The one certain factor is that that porn, courtesy of the internet, has spread into the mainstream like an oil slick. We have not even begun to grasp the harm this is doing, particularly to youngsters born in the internet age, but it is high time we did.

Until answers are found, until government, police and prosecuting authorities start treating sexual harassment as seriously as they should, the streets will continue to be off limits to half of society, and that should anger us all.