While our work tends to be with survivors of the most serious harms, it is rooted in intersectional feminist values and we recognise sexual harassment as a form of male violence against women and girls (VAWG). Public sexual harassment is on the spectrum of offences all of which limit the lives of every woman and girl and which create the conducive context for the most serious offences.
Police forces across the country and no more so than in London, as well as the wider criminal justice system have far to go to improve the experiences of survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence and other forms of VAWG and the outcomes they see from reporting their perpetrators to public authorities. We recognise the limited resources of those systems and the risk of adding an additional legislative burden to them.
We also recognise and take seriously the risks of introducing a law that that could disproportionately criminalise Black and Minoritised men as a result of institutional and societal racism they are already targeted by.
In making our recommendation that a single standalone offence of public sexual harassment be created, we see it as part of the existing commitment the Government has made to make ending VAWG a strategic policing priority that therefore requires additional resourcing. We do so alongside our demands that the Angiolini inquiry into the Met’s response to Sarah Everard’s murder be made a public inquiry into institutional racism and sexism.
We also hear the voices of young women, including those we work with in schools and in the community, who are asking for more to be done to change the culture of casual misogyny and sexual harassment which breed acceptance of the kinds of behaviours reported by ‘Everyone’s Invited’ in schools and universities across the country. We recognise the intersectional nature of sexual harassment experienced particularly by Black and Asian women, Muslim women, Disabled women, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer women, and young women.
We therefore see this as an opportunity to send a strong public message about what constitutes sexual harassment in public spaces in the same way the Domestic Abuse Act has helped communicate that domestic abuse is not just about physical violence, to empower women and girls subjected to harassment and bystanders to object and report it, and to demonstrate to perpetrators that there are consequences to unwanted sexual behaviour.
This must be done in parallel to tackling racism and misogyny within police forces and urgently improving the charge and conviction rates for reported rape, sexual violence and domestic abuse cases through improving victim and survivors’ experiences of the criminal justice system.
We support the proposal put forward by the campaign group Our Streets Now in collaboration with Plan UK, of a new standalone offence which makes clear the definition of unwanted sexual behaviour and with examples of behaviours covered by the offence.
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