Friday, April 23News For London

Will street harassment be recognised as a crime?

Girls are facing sexual comments on the streets. What is being done to protect them?


School girls have expressed concern about how catcalling and other forms of street harassment make them feel ashamed and self-conscious of their bodies.

Others mentioned how these episodes compromise their freedom, as they are afraid to do certain things, like go out at night or walk alone at a certain hour.

A recent survey conducted by Plan International UK and Opinium Research, amongst a representative sample of 1,004 girls between 14 to 21 years old in the UK, found out that 66 per cent of girls between that age have experienced unwanted sexual attention or harassment in a public space.


What statistics say about street harassment?

The survey also concluded that, every month, 38 per cent are experiencing catcalling, wolf whistling and sexual comments, and 15 per cent are being touched, groped or grabbed.

Now girls want it to be recognised as a crime, and the topic was discussed at the House of Lords.

The first debate, that follows the survey, was organised by Plan International UK, a global children’s charity, where 200 girls shared their views on various issues, being street harassment one of them.


What if street harassment is made a criminal offence?

According to the same survey, 40 per cent of girls and young women believe that it could reduce the number of incidents of unsolicited sexual attention and touching.

Tanya Barron, chief executive of Plan International UK says: “girls are telling us loud and clear that they want street harassment to be taken more seriously”.

“Street harassment is not a trivial issue and Plan International UK is calling on the government to recognise street harassment as a form of gender-based violence, in its strategy to end violence against women”, concludes Tanya Barron.


What is the current law on harassment?

According to the Harassment Act 1997, it is an offence to cause “alarm or distress” or put people “in fear of violence”. Unwanted touching is also considered as a sexual offence. However, in the UK, there is no specific law against street harassment.


What is being done?

A few weeks ago, the Women and Equalities Committee said this issue is a “key priority”, after finding out the amount of harassment that girls are growing up with. They also became aware that this kind of violence is happening on transport, bars, clubs, universities, parks and on the street. According to BBC News, committee chairwoman, Maria Miller, said: “women feel the onus is put one them to avoid ‘risky’ situations”.

Although the government has pledged to eliminate sexual harassment of women and girls by 2030, so far there is “no evidence of any programme to achieve this”, says the committee.