A piece in today’s Telegraph:
Campaigners’ push for new law to be created comes as Home Secretary offers reassurance in wake of Sarah Everard’s disappearance
A new law to protect women against public sexual harassment is being considered as Priti Patel reassured women they were safe to walk the streets after the disappearance of Sarah Everard.
The new offence of public sexual harassment is being backed by Nimco Ali, the feminist campaigner appointed by the Home Secretary to advise on the Government’s new strategy to combat sexual violence against women and girls.
Writing for The Telegraph, Ms Ali, said loopholes in the current law meant young teenage girls had to suffer explicit sexual and abusive comments from men on streets without police being able to take action against them. Polls show 90 per cent of women have experienced such behaviour.
“Street harassment is absolutely a form of violence towards women and girls and it currently goes unreported and unpunished. Tolerating behaviour like public harassment only makes it easier for serious crimes of physical and sexual violence to happen,” she said.
“Change is possible – I know this because through my and others’ work campaigning to end FGM [Female Genital Mutilation], it is now a tangible reality that FGM will end in my lifetime.”
A Home Office source said the proposal was “being looked at” as part of the sexual violence strategy. Downing Street on Thursday said the strategy, to be published in the autumn, was a priority for the Government to “better target perpetrators and support victims of these crimes”.
Offering her “heartfelt thoughts and prayers” to Ms Everard’s family, Ms Patel said: “Many women have shared their stories and concerns online since Sarah’s disappearance last week.
“These are so powerful because each and every woman can relate. Every woman should feel safe to walk on our streets without fear of harassment or violence.
“At this deeply sad and tragic time as we think and pray for Sarah and her family, I will continue through my role to do all I can to protect women and girls from violence and harassment.”
Ms Ali said new laws were needed because they set the “template for society” through which people understood what types of behaviour were unacceptable.
“Street sexual harassment should be a criminal offence,” she said. “It is illegal to spit your chewing gum out on to the floor in public. You get fined. We have laws for drink driving and wearing seat belts. But to say to a 14 year old girl: ‘Come over here and do explicit things,’ is not a crime.
“You can’t be safe if people can be saying these kinds of things to a woman let alone children. Why can’t we take steps to make women feel as safe as men on the street?”
Lawyers for the campaign for a new law say current legislation is piecemeal. The Public Order Act 1986 does not refer to crimes with any sexual element and has rarely been used to prosecute verbal sexual harassment.
The Protection from Harassment Act of 1997 requires a “course of conduct” that does not cover the vast majority of street comments or abuse which are one-off and opportunistic. The Sexual Offences Act of 2003 largely requires physical contact.
A campaign for the new offence, entitled Our Streets Now, has been set up by sisters Gemma, 16, and Maya Tutton, 22, after they suffered street harassment. They have already put their case face to face in a meeting with Ms Patel, while their petition for it has attracted 225,000 signatures.
Barrister Dr Charlotte Proudman, who is backing the campaign, said: “There is a huge lacuna in the legislation. This type of behaviour that is highly prevalent is effectively continuing with impunity.”
Meanwhile, Baroness Jones, a Green party peer, said men should be banned from being outdoors after 6pm to “make women a lot safer” after the disappearance of Ms Everard.
You can subscribe to The Telegraph here.
Our last general election manifesto is here.
If everyone who read this gave us £5.00 – or even better, £5.00 or more, monthly – we could change the world. £5.00 monthly would entitle you to Bronze party membership, details here. Benefits include a dedicated and signed book by Mike Buchanan. Click below to make a difference. Thanks.