Sexual harassment on the street in the United Kingdom (UK) will soon result in a prison sentence of up to two years.
It comes after the UK government said on Friday (December 9) it would back a bill that would make street harassment – such as chatting, following someone and blocking their path – a punishable crime.
The private member’s bill, tabled by former business secretary Greg Clark, received the backing of UK home secretary Suella Braverman.
“Every woman should feel safe walking our streets. We put the needs of victims at the heart of our decision, which means that criminals who commit these acts will face the consequences they deserve,” she said, according to The Guardian.
What does the bill say and why was it needed? What has been the reaction to the bill criminalizing street harassment in England? We explain.
Street Harassment Bill
The Public Sexual Harassment Protection Bill was introduced in the UK Parliament by Conservative lawmaker Clark, who said the aim was to ‘reinforce a change in the culture which establishes that it is totally unacceptable to abuse women on the street,” reported BBC.
“Public sexual harassment can affect men and boys, but we need to be clear that it disproportionately affects women and girls,” he said during a House of Commons debate. municipalities.
The bill seeks to criminalize obstructing someone’s path, making obscene or aggressive comments towards someone, deliberately walking behind someone on their way home at night, and driving a vehicle. slowly near a person in public areas, in accordance with The Guardian.
The legislation also proposes to increase maximum sentences for such crimes from six months to two years.
Sexual harassment is illegal in the UK, but the government has argued that passing new legislation against street harassment will encourage more people to report the offense to the police.
Another bill last year sought to classify misogynistic violence as a hate crime, but it failed to receive support from the UK government and was eventually struck down.
Killings that shocked the UK
Sarah Everard was kidnapped and killed by a police officer on her way home to south London last year.
Her death had raised serious concerns about the safety of the women, with police coming under increased scrutiny.
In September of the same year, a primary school teacher, Sabina Nessa, was murdered in south London by an unknown person. The man identified as Koci Selamaj was sentenced to life with a minimum sentence of 36 years in April this year.
The UK Home Office, which is responsible for policing, recently launched a campaign called ‘Enough’ to motivate people to speak out against bullying.
READ ALSO: Five years of #MeToo: return on the echo of the campaign in the world
Statistics on street harassment in the UK
A survey conducted by YouGov to BBC – which was published in March – found that two-thirds of women felt unsafe walking alone at night.
Of the 3,361 adults surveyed in February this year, 62% said they had experienced cat calls or wolf whistles, while only 8% of men had experienced them.
43% of women and 15% of men have experienced unwelcome touching or groping, the YouGov survey added.
According The Guardian report, research published by children’s charity Plan International and campaign group Our Streets Now in 2020 found that 19% of young women and girls in the age group of 14 to 21 had been victims of calls chatting, tracking, groping, flashing or upskirting. 75% had experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime.
Last year, a survey for UN Women UK found that 86% of women aged 18-24 had experienced sexual harassment in public.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), a UK government agency, says women under 34 are most likely to be sexually harassed, however, they are the least likely to report it, reported BBC.
Reactions to the Street Harassment Bill
According The New York Times (NYT)Opposition lawmakers welcomed the government’s decision to back the Street Harassment Bill and also drew attention to “wider recognition of women’s lived experiences”.
Labor Home Secretary Yvette Cooper was quoted as saying by BBC“Any action to address the epidemic of violence against women and girls is welcome, but the government must now move further and faster.”
While welcoming the decision to tackle men’s abusive behavior towards women, Andrea Simon – the director of the End Violence Against Women coalition – also expressed concerns about the implementation of the new legislation citing “the state damaged” of the judicial system.
“We fear that a justice system that is already so badly damaged cannot implement a new law,” she said, according to The Guardian.
Welcoming the bill, Rose Caldwell, chief executive of Plan International UK, said it was “a huge step towards a society where no girl feels unsafe on returning home”.
“This bill sends a clear signal to perpetrators that this behavior is not acceptable, and to women and girls that they will be protected and listened to,” she said. The Guardian.
Stella Creasy, a Labor MP who has campaigned for misogyny to be made a hate crime, said: “It is Parliament that finally acknowledges, as do the police, that misogyny leads to crimes against women and girls “.
She also said the new law would initiate wider change as police would now collect data on street harassment, The Guardian reported.
With contributions from agencies
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