The UK is considering making street harassment a crime

The UK is considering making street harassment a crime


She just wanted to walk home. 

These are the words that have been uttered over and over in the wake of the suspected abduction and murder of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive who went missing while walking home in south London. In the hours following the news of her disappearance, women and people of marginalised genders shared the ways they modify their behaviour while in public spaces and how they exist in states of hypervigilance when walking home at night. 

This week, U.N. Women UK released new figures showing that 97 percent of young women have been sexually harassed, and over 70 percent of women of all ages have endured such behaviour. This followed data published by the World Health Organisation stating that one in three women — approximately 736 million — are subjected to physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. To women and people of marginalised genders, these figures aren’t shocking or surprising— they’re reflective of the reality of our lived experiences. 

The question “what can we do?” has filled our timelines over the past few days, alongside pleas to implement change on a societal level starting with tackling misogyny and educating boys and young men about allyship, male entitlement, and ethical behaviour. 

The UK government says it is considering making street harassment a criminal offence following a campaign from Our Streets Now, a grassroots intersectional campaign founded by sisters Maya and Gemma Tutton, per a Daily Telegraph report. The co-founders said having their “ready-made bill” being considered by government is a big campaign milestone. 

“Public sexual harassment can’t continue to be a ‘normal’ part of being a girl in this country.” 

“If these changes were to come about it would help promote a fundamental paradigm shift in our society’s understanding of how girls, women and those from marginalised genders should be able to enjoy public spaces and civil society – resulting in a vindication of their right to equal access to all parts of society without fear of abuse or intimidation,” they said in a statement emailed to Mashable. “Public sexual harassment can’t continue to be a ‘normal’ part of being a girl in this country.” 

In 2018, France made street harassment a crime punishable by on-the-spot fines for perpetrators. The law’s introduction saw hundreds of fines handed out in its first months. 

Rose Caldwell, CEO of girls’ rights non-profit Plan International UK, welcomed the news that the government is considering criminalising street harassment. “This is a landmark moment for our #CrimeNotCompliment campaign in partnership with Our Streets Now. If implemented, legal change would start a cultural shift, so that girls and women will finally begin to feel safe in public spaces,” she said in a statement. 

“We have created a ready-made bill which the government can pick up and turn into law. Girls and young women across the UK are facing harassment every day. They’re being followed, shouted at, touched and groped — and they want it to stop,” Caldwell added. 

Caldwell added that people can be fined for dropping litter in the UK, but not for harassing women and girls. 

In the wake of Sarah Everard’s suspected killing, MPs called on the government to take action in the fight against violence against women and girls, including making misogyny a hate crime. 

Gaps in our legal system are part of the infrastructure that enables violence against women. Given that 99 percent of rapes reported to police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2020 resulted in no further action, it’s clear that prosecution is another area that needs drastic overhaul. 

When so few feel they can place their faith and trust in the criminal justice system when it comes to reporting sexual violence, it’s clear that change needs to happen in society at large. Educating young people about violence against women and marginalised genders and sexual harassment in addition to talking to boys and men about their role in fighting misogyny are starting points. 





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