I am aware that Plan International UK have found that 66% of girls and young women aged 14 21 have experienced public sexual harassment – with higher instances of reported unwanted attention reported by LBTIQ+ and Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups. Furthermore, they reported that during the first lockdown between March and April 2020, 1 in 5 young women (aged 14 21) were still experiencing public sexual harassment. A recent YouGov poll has also found that 97% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed, and 80% of women of all ages have experienced sexual harassment in a public space.
Plan International UK define public sexual harassment as unwanted sexual behaviour, actions or gestures, which could be verbal, non-verbal or physical, in spaces that are accessible to the public, including persistent staring, sexually propositioning, sexually explicit comments; intrusive persistent questioning; “catcalling” and “wolf whistling”; non-contact technology-enabled sexual behaviour – such sending unwanted illicit images to someone’s phone (also known as cyber flashing); viewing or showing pornography in public; “up skirting”; as well as non-consensual physical contact.
On 12 March 2021. it was reported that the Government are considering making public sexual harassment a crime. I believe it is important to support those suffering abuse to be able to name the experiences they have, and to know they will be believed when they do so. I am therefore potentially in favour of such an act, and should it come to the Commons, I will scrutinise it to ensure it is robust enough to increase confidence in victims reporting whilst not increasing police powers without accountability or disproportionately negatively impacting 0n minority groups.
I note that sexual harassment is already a form of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, though it is more often applied to address harassment as the production of a hostile environment for a person at work. Legal advice for employees identifies many of the kinds of gestures, actions and online communications listed by Plan International UK, as examples of workplace harassment.
I signed the Early Day Motion ‘Ending Sexual Harassment in the Work Place’ (March 2020) which acknowledged the TUC and Everyday Sexism Project study which found that one in two women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment at work and four out of five of these women do not report the abuse because of poor reporting systems or fear of repercussions.
Any legislation seeking to fight gendered discrimination should, in my opinion, be accompanied by increased funding and development of public services supporting those suffering domestic abuse and violence, national education programmes that tackle misogyny, legislation to ensure employers address the gender pay gap, policies to support parents and carers, and interventions that address the inadequacies and institutional biases of our criminal justice system, including the reversal of legal aid cuts.
In response to this year’s Budget, on 3 March 2021, Refuge noted that “women experience male violence all year round and financial support for frontline services must reflect this ongoing need” and called for investment to address the huge gap for refuge funding. I stood on a manifesto that raised that many women’s experience of criminal justice agencies is unacceptable and committed to: set new standards for tackling domestic and sexual abuse and violence; establish an independent review into our shamefully low rape prosecution rates; establish a National Refuge Fund; and ensure financial stability for rape crisis centres. The manifesto also noted that legal aid cuts mean essential legal help is too often denied, and committed to restore all early legal aid advice, recruit hundreds of new community lawyers, promote public legal education and build an expanded network of law centres.
I will continue to do all I can, in parliament and beyond to campaign for structural change to address abuse and violence wherever it occurs.