Monday, April 22News For London

Now is the time to legalise pepper spray to protect women in the capital

In the UK, it is illegal to carry pepper spray as a self-defense weapon. At Westminster World, we think this needs to change.

Photo Credit: The Canterbury Hub

Back in 2010, Theresa May MP, former Home Secretary said: “No woman should live in fear of violence.” However, eleven years later nothing seems to have changed.

Violence against women has been an ongoing topic for many years within the United Kingdom, and in 2021, the issue grew more prominent. Recent statistics found that only 24 per cent of women feel safe walking alone after dark. It is predicted that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in this country, and 1 in 5 women will experience sexual assault during their lifetime.

With the murders of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa and Bobbi-Ann McLeod it has made it even more apparent how unsafe the capital has been for many women. These murders created much debate around what should be done to address violence against women. In view of these events, we firmly believe that the government should look into this policy and legalise pepper spray.   

What the public thinks

Video Credit: Skyler King and Yiru Qin

35,617 people signed a petition asking the government to legalise pepper spray before it was closed in September of this year. Doing our research at Westminster World, the general public still feels the same. Out of a poll of 130 respondents, 90 per cent agreed that pepper spray should be legalised for self-defence use. By legalising the use of it, the United Kingdom would join countries like Spain, France and Russia and many others who have made the plunge in its legalisation.

Phillip, who does modelling in the capital, believes that pepper spray should be legalised and said: “I don’t think it is going to be misused, to be honest. It’s a basic human right to feel safe and to have the means to defend yourself.”

Andrea, who works in marketing, also believes the same and said: “I don’t really see a reason not to. There are ways of misusing it, but if certain measures are in place and is controlled somehow, then, of course, it should be legalised. It is a necessary way to defend themselves.”  

Photo Credit: Hamish Hallett

Lougain Audily, Solicitor at RLegal Solicitors, London said: “Maybe the UK would benefit from the legalisation of pepper spray due to the increase in violence against women. It can be seen as a great weapon to carry when a woman is attacked, as it is an immediate action to do and the results are beneficial for the women to exit the scene quickly.”

Why is pepper spray illegal?

Under the Firearms Act 1968, carrying pepper spray in the United Kingdom is illegal and is classed as a firearm. The police are the only ones that can use pepper spray for crowd and riot control.

The Home Office responded to the petition trying to legalise pepper spray by saying: “The Government is taking determined action to make our streets safer. But sprays containing noxious substances are dangerous, and we have no plans to allow people to carry them for self-defence. In the wrong hands, items such as pepper sprays can be dangerous and cause serious injury. That is why their possession is prohibited under firearms law.”

In an interview with Dr. Sarmad Tamoo, a researcher at Imperial College London, he discussed how pepper spray can have dangerous negative effects if it is not used properly.

He said: “The main ingredient in pepper spray is capsaicin, which is a chemical derived from plants in the capsicum genus, including chillies. This can cause some rare and serious complications like temporary blindness, damage to the cornea of the eyes, shortness of breath and pulmonary diseases.”

Solutions

Despite the serious consequences, we at Westminster World believe there are ways to regulate the use of pepper spray:

  • Pepper sprays could be made available to women above a particular age between 16-18 years old.
  • The United Kingdom, like Switzerland, Portugal, and Germany, can issue licences to own pepper spray.
  • A proper guide can be issued by the government particularly outlining who can use a pepper spray, in what amount and under what circumstances.
  • Organise awareness programmes at schools and colleges to educate children about the safe use of it.