Public sexual harassment will be made a specific offence through government-backed legislation returning to Parliament today [Friday 9 December]
A wide range of experts were consulted over the summer on introducing a specific offence. The vast majority considered public sexual harassment to be a widespread problem.
The consultation showed the need for a specific offence to make the laws surrounding public harassment clearer to both the public and the police. Despite public sexual harassment already being illegal, the introduction of a specific offence will encourage women to report to the police, as well as emphasising the severity of the crime.
After careful consideration, the government is supporting legislation brought forward by Greg Clark MP which introduces harsher sentences if someone who deliberately harasses, alarms, or distresses someone in a public place does so because of the victim’s sex, with the maximum sentence increasing from six months to two years.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said:
"Every woman should feel safe to walk our streets without fear of harassment or violence. And that is why we are supporting this bill to introduce a specific offence on public sexual harassment.
"It’s a complex issue and we’ve carefully considered the arguments, taking into account a range of views.
"We are putting the needs of victims at the heart of our decision, which will mean the criminals who commit these acts face the consequences they deserve."
British Transport Police Assistant Chief Constable Charlie Doyle, said:
"No woman should be subjected to harassment or intimidation as they travel and we will always welcome any extra help in bringing more offenders to justice.
"We have always taken reports of sexual harassment extremely seriously, however I hope the proposed legislation will reinforce our clear message to perpetrators that it simply won’t be tolerated.
"We know that all forms of sexual harassment are under-reported to police and I hope this increased awareness will encourage more victims to come forward and tell us about what’s happened to them."
The government response to the consultation has been published here, which confirms the commitment to pursuing new legislation which builds on the intentional ‘harass, alarm, distress’ definition of harassment first established in law in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
The new legislation supports the government’s commitment to tackling violence against women and girls, and follows earlier action to help tackle these crimes in public spaces, including public sexual harassment.
Government action also includes new guidance for the police and prosecutors on sexual harassment; investing £125 million through the Safer Streets and Safety of Women at Night Funds; the StreetSafe tool which allows women to report directly to the police on areas where they have felt unsafe; and the ground-breaking ‘Enough’ communications campaign, which helps the public to safely play their part in stopping abuse.
The change will provide that if an offence is committed under existing section 4A Public Order Act 1986 (intentionally causing someone harassment, alarm or distress), and is done because of the victim’s sex, then they can get the higher maximum sentence of two years, when previously the maximum was six months.