Men who sexually harass women in the street with unwanted sexual comments or could face up to two years in jail under proposed new offence
- Government consultation is considering amending a law to include harassment
- Following someone and making obscene gestures could become offences
- Calls for tougher punishment on harassment came after Sarah Everard’s death
Men who sexually harass women in public could face up to two years in prison under new government rules.
The Home Office has launched a consultation on amending the 1986 public order act to add a new offence of ‘public sexual harassment’.
Following someone, making obscene comments or gestures, cornering someone or deliberately following someone slowly in your car are listed as possible offences.
The document emerged quietly just before Parliament stopped for the summer recess, The Telegraph reported.
Boris Johnson said previously that current rules were sufficient to crack down on street harassment such as wolf whistling or catcalling if properly policed.
But the new consultation suggests ‘others take a different view and we respect that’.
Tougher action against petty harassment has been mooted along with action to increase conviction rates for more serious crimes since Ms Everard was brutally killed in March 2021.
Liz Truss, the frontrunner to be the next prime minister, has previously backed a new law to tackle violence against women.
It is believed Priti Patel is also in favour of adding the new offence
The consultation had been promised after the horrific murder of Sarah Everard by Wayne Couzens, a serving Met Police officer.
Her death sparked calls for tougher laws to tackle the scourge of violent misogyny in Britain.
The Office for National Statistics found that half of women aged 16 to 34 had been harassed at some point in the last year.
And a horrifying 38 per cent had been targeted with catcalls, unwanted sexual comments and whistles.
Under the proposed law, unlike hate crime, the defendant would not have to be motivated by hostility because of the victim’s sex.
The document states: ‘Public sexual harassment will sometimes be based on such hostility, but not always, and this is one of the reasons why the Law Commission concluded that sex should not be added to hate crime legislation, and why the Government agrees with that conclusion.’
Last month, Liz Truss vowed to make wolf-whistling and cat-calling illegal if she is made Prime Minister under sweeping plans to tackle violence.
Last month, Liz Truss vowed to make wolf-whistling and cat-calling illegal if she is made Prime Minister under sweeping plans to tackle violence
The Tory leadership contender also outlined plans for a national domestic abuse register as she admitted all politicians needed to ‘do more’.
Under her plans, a standalone offence to criminalise harassment would cover ‘aggressive and misogynistic behaviour’, though there were no details of what exactly would be included.
The register, meanwhile, would include coercive and controlling behaviour and financial abuse.
The Foreign Secretary said: ‘Over the last two years, our nation has been shocked by a number of high profile murders of women, many here in London. It is the responsibility of all political leaders, including us in Westminster and the Mayor of London, to do more.
‘Violence against women and girls doesn’t have to be inevitable. Women should be able to walk the streets without fear of harm, and perpetrators must expect to be punished.
‘Through increased police training, new offences, faster processes for rape victims and our domestic abuse register we will ensure victims are protected, and crimes are prevented in the first place.’
Ms Truss believes the register would break the cycle of repeat offending.
Her Government would also require convicted offenders to inform the police of arrangements with new partners and their children, and failure to do so would lead to harsh penalties.
As part of her crackdown, which builds on the Government’s Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, the Foreign Secretary also pledged to accelerate the process for handling rape cases.
She would ensure cases are able to reach investigatory standards from the start to allow quicker progress through the courts.
In order to be able to respond effectively to vulnerable victims, police officers would also receive specific training.
Conservative former Home Office minister Rachel Maclean said: ‘Women and girls should be free to live their lives in safety and I know as prime minister Liz will deliver tougher safeguards for domestic abuse victims, including tagging for the most violent offenders.’