Public sexual harassment will finally be charged in the UK

Written by Amy Beecham

Despite a similar move being blocked by Boris Johnson earlier this year, is criminalising street harassment the solution to the crisis of male violence against women? 

Under new guidance, people responsible for sexual harassment in the street canand will be charged in England and Wales.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has suggested that even one-off incidents of  sexually threatening or abusive comments could be classed as offences under existing public order laws.

“Examples could include unwanted sexual comments… where it is not possible to prove that the perpetrator had an intention to cause harassment, alarm or distress,” the guidance states. It also clarifies that in cases of unwanted touching in the street or on public transport, police do not have to prove what happened was “intentionally sexual”.

“Feeling safe should not be a luxury for women,” said Siobhan Blake, CPS lead for rape and serious offences.

A survey from June 2021 found that 28% of women and 16% of men had experienced at least one form of harassment in the previous 12 months.

Street harassment was recognised as a form of gender-based violence by the UK government in 2019 in its national strategy to end Violence Against Women and Girls. It is currently also considering stronger laws on street harassment, including making it an offence to cause “intentional harassment, alarm or distress” to someone because of their sex.

In 2020, in partnership with grassroots organisation Our Streets Now, Plan International launched its #CrimeNotCompliment campaign calling on the UK Government to finally make public sexual harassment a crime.

According to the charity, more than one in three girls in the UK have received unwanted sexual attention, such as being groped, stared at, catcalled and wolf-whistled, while wearing their school uniform in public.

While the news has been welcomed by some campaigners, a similar move to make public sexual harassment a crime was blocked by Boris Johnson earlier this year. However, prime ministerial candidate Liz Truss has since pledged its introduction as part of her strategy to tackle male violence against women.

Truss’s campaign promised that as prime minister, her administration would introduce “a standalone offence to criminalise street harassment, clamping down on aggressive and misogynistic behaviour”.

Her opposition, Rishi Sunak, also vowed to clamp down on “downblousing” – taking a photo down a woman’s top without consent – as part of his campaign for PM.

Images: Getty

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