The UK government has announced plans to make sexual harassment on the street a criminal offence. Wolf-whistling, catcalling and staring persistently will be punishable with jail sentences of up to two years under the new plan, which has been backed by Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
Sexual harassment is already illegal, but the government hopes that creating a new offense specifically for street harassment will encourage more people to report it to the police.
The plans are in response to a private member’s bill tabled by former business secretary Greg Clark, which seeked to criminalize various forms of sexual harassment in public. The bill passed its second reading in the Commons and will now go to the committee stage.
Crimes such as the murder of Sarah Everard – who was kidnapped and murdered by a serving policeman while walking home alone, raised further questions and awareness about women’s safety in public.
A survey by pollsters YouGov in 2021 found that two-thirds of women do not feel safe walking alone at night.
A research by Plan International and Our Streets Now in 2021 showed that two thirds of young women and girls between the ages of 12 and 21 had experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime.
British Transport Police Assistant Chief Constable Charlie Doyle said: ”We know that all forms of sexual harassment are under-reported to police and I hope this increased awareness will encourage more victims to come forward and tell us about what’s happened to them.”
The MET police has recently announced their Walk and Talk scheme, where local neighbourhood patrols invite women to join a female officer on the beat, giving them feedback on the parts of their area that make them feel unsafe.
Sophie, 22, who had previously experienced harassment said:
”I have been screamed at, followed and harassed multiple times since I was 14. No matter if I only go to the local convenience store or out clubbing, I get unsolicited comments everywhere. It got to the point that I decided to buy a fake engagement ring, because it seems like some people only respect your ‘NO’ if they think you are another man’s property. I’m sceptical about how the new rules might be enforced, but at least positive steps are being taken to better protect women.”
Words: Andrea Rezman | Subbing: Anna Kamocsai