UK mulls making street harassment of women a crime

By: AFP      Published: 06:26 PM, 21 Jul, 2021
UK mulls making street harassment of women a crime

Britain is considering making street harassment of women a crime, the interior minister said Wednesday, as the government was to publish new proposals to tackle violence against women and girls.

The government is pledging to improve legislation after the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard, a young woman walking home in London, sparked widespread anger at women's lack of safety in public spaces.

Harassment such as wolf-whistling could become a specific crime, the Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a comment piece in The Times, as she was set to unveil proposals on ways to support women reporting public sexual harassment and crack down on male violence.

Patel wrote that the government was taking action on street harassment and would "continue to look at gaps in existing law and how an offence for sexual harassment could address those."

"I am committed to ensuring not only that the laws are there, but that they work in practice and women and girls are confident their concerns will be taken seriously," she said.

The murder of Everard, 33, who disappeared while walking home in London in March, by police officer Wayne Couzens "triggered a national conversation about these issues," Patel said, demonstrating "the need to support victims and do more to prevent these crimes".

Barbaric practice

The UK government and police have also faced harsh criticism as convictions for rape have fallen dramatically despite more women coming forward to report sexual attacks.

The government's proposals include the creation of a new national policing lead to tackle male violence against women as well as the appointment of two officials in charge of preventing violence against women and girls on public transport.

The strategy also calls for the criminalisation of  so-called virginity testing, which Patel called a "barbaric practice".

Campaigners for the rights of women and girls criticised the proposals as not going far enough, however.

Rose Caldwell, chief executive of Plan International UK, a rights organisation, said she was "very disappointed" that the strategy does not already include a new law on public sexual harassment.

"We urge the Government to quickly deliver its promise to review gaps in the legislation -- and then it must commit to a new Public Sexual Harassment Law," she said.

Opposition politician Jess Phillips also called for more concrete action from the government.

"The services and support required to end violence against women and girls cannot run on warm words alone," said the Labour MP.

"The Government should step up to the plate."