Priti Patel flags street harassment law as anti-violence strategy published

More than 180,000 contributors have helped shaped the new strategy.

Home Secretary Priti Patel speaking in the House of Commons, London
Home Secretary Priti Patel speaking in the House of Commons, London

Priti Patel has indicated street harassment such as wolf-whistling could become a specific crime as plans to better protect women and girls are set to be unveiled.

The Home Secretary wrote in The Times the Government was “taking action” on street harassment, adding: “But we will continue to look at gaps in existing law and how an offence for sexual harassment could address those.”

Ms Patel added: “I am committed to ensuring not only that the laws are there, but that they work in practice and women and girls are confident their concerns will be taken seriously.

“It is important that the police enforce the law and give women the confidence that if they report an incident, it will be dealt with.”

More than 180,000 contributors have helped shape the strategy, designed to tackle violence against women and girls, which is due to be published by Ms Patel on Wednesday.

It will include the creation of a new national policing lead to ensure best practice among forces and improve the response times to such crimes.

The strategy also seeks to criminalise so-called virginity testing, described by MPs as a “medieval” practice.

It also sets out a commitment to appoint two new so-called “Violence Against Women and Girls Transport Champions”, which the Government said will “drive forward positive change and tackle the problems faced by female passengers on public transport”.

Further pledges include the Ministry of Justice commissioning a 24/7 rape and sexual assault helpline, while the Department for Education will work with the Office for Students to tackle sexual harassment and abuse in higher education, the Government said.

Ms Patel said: “The safety of women and girls across the country, wherever they are, is an absolute priority for me.

“It is unacceptable that women and girls are still subject to harassment, abuse, and violence, and I do not accept that violence against women and girls is inevitable.

“I am determined to give the police the powers they need to crack down on perpetrators and carry out their duties to protect the public whilst providing victims with the care and support they deserve.

“This strategy, shaped by the responses of those who bravely came forward and shared their stories and experiences, will deliver real and lasting change.”

Sarah Everard death
Sarah Everard (Family handout)

The review is published against a backdrop of dismal conviction rates for rape, despite the number of reported incidents on the rise.

The case of Sarah Everard, who was murdered by police officer Wayne Couzens near Clapham Common in March, also prompted mass demonstrations about women’s safety.

And the Everyone’s Invited website also highlighted allegations of a “rape culture” in education settings.

Rose Caldwell, chief executive of Plan International UK, said it was “very disappointed” the strategy does not include new legislation on public sexual harassment.

She said: “Without a new law, millions of girls will be left unprotected.

“However, the Government has recognised that this is an urgent issue that needs more attention.

“We urge the Government to quickly deliver its promise to review gaps in the legislation – and then it must commit to a new Public Sexual Harassment Law.”

Shadow home office minister Jess Phillips, said: “The services and support required to end violence against women and girls cannot run on warm words alone. How are we in a situation where we have better protections for statues than for women?

“Labour has set out a wealth of proposals to tackle Violence Against Women’s and Girls but the Tories are dragging their feet. The Government should step up to the plate and take action rather than more warm words.”

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