The new law sends a powerful message to protect individuals from sexual harassment.
UK Members of Parliament have unanimously approved a private member's bill that aims to make street sexual harassment a specific criminal offense, punishable by up to two years in jail. The bill seeks to improve enforcement against harassment and targets behavior such as catcalling, following, and blocking the path of individuals in public places. The legislation applies to both men and women, but its intention is to reinforce a cultural change towards women and girls. Despite sexual harassment being illegal, the bill closes a legal loophole by making it a specific criminal offense to intentionally harass or intimidate a woman or a girl in public.
The move follows concerns over women's safety and attitudes towards women in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard and the killing of primary school teacher Sabina Nessa. A recent survey by pollsters YouGov for the BBC indicated that two-thirds of women did not feel safe walking alone at night, at least some of the time. Women and girls under 34 are most likely to be the target of sexual offenses but are the least likely to report them, according to the Crown Prosecution Service.
The new law will criminalize behaviors such as deliberately walking closely behind someone as they walk home at night, making obscene or aggressive comments, making obscene or offensive gestures, obstructing someone's path, and driving or riding a vehicle slowly near someone making a journey. The proposed law also includes harsher sentences, increasing the maximum jail term from six months to two years. The bill was supported by the government in December, making it almost guaranteed to become law.
Campaigners have also called for wolf-whistling and staring intently to be criminalized, and last year the Home Office launched a consultation on making street harassment a specific crime. The government recently launched its Enough campaign about street harassment, encouraging people to call out harassment and intervene if they see someone being harassed.
The legislation sends a strong message that harassment of any kind is not acceptable and that there are consequences for such behavior. It is vital to create safer public spaces and ensure that everyone, regardless of gender, feels protected and respected. The move towards criminalizing street sexual harassment is a step towards creating a culture that values and protects the rights of women and girls.
Street sexual harassment has been a pervasive problem for far too long, making it difficult for individuals, particularly women and girls, to feel safe in public spaces. The recent move by the UK government to criminalize street harassment is a significant step towards reducing this issue. However, there are still other ways to tackle this problem. One way is to promote education and awareness of the harmful effects of street harassment. This can be done through various means such as school programs, public awareness campaigns, and social media. Additionally, bystander intervention training can empower people to intervene when they witness street harassment, thus reducing the incidence of these acts. Improved lighting, surveillance cameras, and police patrols in areas where street harassment is common can also serve as deterrents. Ultimately, reducing street harassment will require a combination of legal action, education, and community engagement to create a safer environment for everyone.
Felix is the founder of Society of Speed, an automotive journal covering the unique lifestyle of supercar owners. Alongside automotive journalism, Felix recently graduated from university with a finance degree and enjoys helping students and other young founders grow their projects.