Sexual harassment of women and girls in public places Contents

2Making public places safe for all women and girls

30.From our focus groups, women in particular think that addressing sexual harassment should be a government priority, and the UK has signed a number of international agreements requiring it to tackle sexual harassment and the factors that underlie it. Government has many different levers at its disposal to address this problem and to make public spaces safe and enjoyable for all women and girls. These include data collection to gather evidence and inform policy, the development of laws and non-legislative policies, public campaigns, and enforcement action by regulators. The Government’s Violence Against Women and Girls strategy does not comprehensively tackle sexual harassment in public places despite the fact sexual harassment is the most common form of violence against women and girls. This chapter sets out how this could be more effectively addressed as part of this programme of work.

Sexual harassment as an equality and human rights issue

International obligations

31.The UK has already pledged to tackle sexual harassment as an equality and human rights issue under its international obligations. The main international law on women’s equality, the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), requires the UK to take action to eliminate sexual harassment and other violence against women as a form of discrimination and a human rights abuse. Dr Purna Sen, UN Women’s spokesperson on sexual harassment, told us that “domestication [of CEDAW] is a recommendation of that Committee”; however, as the UK has not taken this step, women do not have direct recourse to domestic courts to enforce their rights under the Convention.58

32.States are regularly examined for their compliance with CEDAW—the UK will next be examined in February 2019. The UK’s report to the CEDAW Committee in November 2017 made minimal reference to sexual harassment, using the term only once, in relation to universities. We asked the Minister for Women why this was. She responded that:

I am going to be asking questions as to why it was just that one reference [to sexual harassment … ] because it seems to me there is much more to this than universities. Although there has been progression in universities, I certainly take the point that there is much more work to be done in this field in public places.59

33.UK obligations under other UN Conventions are also relevant for tackling sexual harassment of women and girls of different ages and backgrounds. These include the Convention on the Rights of the Child,60 the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination61 and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.62 Article 40 of the Istanbul Convention—which the UK Government signed in 2012 and is committed to ratifying—also sets out obligations on sexual harassment. It states:

Parties [to the Convention] shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that any form of unwanted verbal, non‐verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment, is subject to criminal or other legal sanction.63

34.Having signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UK is committed to meeting the SDG targets by 2030, domestically as well as abroad. This includes targets under Goal 5 that require all forms of discrimination against all women and girls to be ended, and all forms of violence against women and girls to be eliminated in the public and private spheres.64

Domestic obligations

35.The Equality Act 2010 outlaws sexual harassment by service providers, amongst others, both in the public and private sector. This includes local authorities, hospitals, schools, shops, restaurants and bars, transport companies, building and trade companies, gyms and hotels.65 A bar, transport company or other service provider can be held responsible for sexual harassment by their employees, and in some limited circumstances also by others (such as customers), for example if the service provider knew of a continuing course of sexual harassment occurring in a situation over which they had some control but did not take action to prevent it. An individual who wishes to make a claim of sexual harassment in relation to services would make it in a county court, but court data is not broken down to show how many such claims are made.66

36.In addition to the prohibition on sexual harassment which applies generally, the Equality Act 2010 places a particular duty on public bodies, including government departments and local authorities, to take steps to promote equality and eliminate discrimination and harassment. We asked discrimination lawyer Karon Monaghan QC whether there was a clear duty to keep people safe under the Public Sector Equality Duty, meaning that a case could be brought against a local authority if it failed to do so. Ms Monaghan said:

No, it does not go that far. I would want the Public Sector Equality Duty strengthened to have that sort of mandatory duty, but what it does do is require public authorities, when making any decisions, to have due regard—so to take account of—to the need to eliminate, among other things, sexual harassment. Whenever a public authority makes a decision on, for example, licensing a sex club, which might be the easiest example but also lighting, street arrangements, and so on, it is bound to consider how it can do this in a way that promotes the elimination of harassment, and so on.67

37.Karon Monaghan also told us that the Human Rights Act 1998 could be relevant to state obligations and a responsibility to protect against sexual harassment in public places, although it would not provide grounds for an individual to take action against another individual. Article 8 enshrines the right to respect for private life which includes a positive obligation on the part of the state to protect individuals from violations by other individuals or by private bodies. This could be achieved through effective enforcement of the law, legal or regulatory frameworks and the provision of resources. Ms Monaghan said:

The courts have recognised that private life is a broad concept, and it protects sexual and personal autonomy, so engaging in sexual harassment, on the face of it, violates that right, the right to respect for private life. There is a provision under the Act that does provide some protection. It is only as against the state.68

The Equality and Human Rights Commission

38.The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is an independent statutory body with the role of monitoring and enforcing equality law and protecting human rights. It therefore has an important part to play in ensuring that women and girls are able to enjoy their right to be and feel safe in public places. The EHRC has a range of enforcement powers, including conducting inquiries and investigations, which are set out in the Equality Act 200669 and are explained in its compliance and enforcement policy.70 The Commission has a number of other powers and levers at its disposal as part of its enforcement role including promoting human rights, carrying out publicity campaigns, and publishing guidance.

39.We asked the Commission for information about any work it has undertaken on sexual harassment of women and girls in public places. It told us about a range of work it had undertaken on violence against women and girls more broadly.71 However, when it comes to sexual harassment specifically, the Commission told us that its enforcement action has concentrated on sexual harassment in the workplace rather than public places. It said that:

Opportunities for enforcement action in relation to the harassment of women and girls in public spaces by other members of the public is much more limited [than in workplaces]. We would be unable to take action against the private and voluntary sectors in this regard. We would only be able to take action against public authorities in circumstances where we believe they may have failed to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty. Further, we can only take action where the public authority has failed to pay due regard to the need to, for example, foster good relations. If a public authority has paid due regard to the need to foster good relations but reaches a decision which we believe will not foster good relations, that will not provide us with grounds for enforcement action.72

40.We believe that the Commission is wrongly interpreting its powers in relation to sexual harassment of women and girls in public places and should take a wider view of its role in addressing this issue. The prohibition on sexual harassment in the Equality Act 2010 applies to clubs, bars, shops and other private service providers and the EHRC can enforce this. In relation to public bodies, we have heard evidence about a range of ways in which local authorities, police forces, universities and other public bodies can take measures to address sexual harassment, and these bodies should be held to account for their responsibilities for doing so as service providers as well as under the Public Sector Equality Duty. The EHRC should be far more proactive in enforcing those responsibilities.

41.We asked the Minister for Women if she knew whether the EHRC was taking action on sexual harassment outside of the workplace and she told us: “I have to confess I don’t. I have not had that conversation with the Commission’s chairman or chief executive.”73

42.The Commission can also work with other stakeholders. However, we have not seen evidence of good partnership working between the Commission and other regulators, for example the Office for Students, where they too have a regulatory responsibility to address sexual harassment in public places. We asked the Minister for Women how she would expect the Office for Students and the EHRC to work together as regulators ensuring women’s safety at university. She said: “I hope they would work together—very much so. The fact that the harassment takes place in a university should not preclude the Commission from looking into it and helping.”74

43.A more robust and proactive approach is required by the Equality and Human Rights Commission to tackling the problem of sexual harassment of women and girls in public places, in which it has a vital role. This includes using all tools at its disposal for the enforcement of equality legislation, and working with other regulators such as the Office for Students and transport regulators.

44.The Equality and Human Rights Commission must set out a plan of action for working with other regulators such as the Office for Students and transport regulators to ensure that the prevalence and impact of sexual harassment, and the effectiveness of actions being taken to eliminate it, are transparent.

Criminal laws

45.There is no specific criminal offence of sexual harassment in the UK, unlike in some other countries.75 A range of different criminal offences are relevant, however. These include sexual assault and voyeurism under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, harassment and stalking under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, and ‘revenge porn’, where the distribution of a private sexual image of someone without their consent and with the intention of causing them distress is an offence under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. The Public Order Act 1986 was also noted by the Minister for Women as relevant legislation if a victim felt harassment, alarm or distress as a consequence of sexual harassment in public.76 The Government told us that it is “satisfied that the criminal law is already comprehensive in protecting against sexual harassment and assault but keeps this area of law under constant review.”77

46.Some victims of sexual harassment called for clearer laws.78 Others, however, cautioned against criminalising sexual harassment or seeing the law as a ‘quick fix’.79 Laws alone cannot address the cultural acceptability of sexual harassment. The everyday nature of much sexual harassment means that victims, particularly children, may be unlikely to report to the police, and criminal laws cannot cover much of the harassing behaviour experienced by women and girls.80 One woman told us about multiple experiences of sexual harassment including being masturbated at by a man in a park as a child and being routinely sexually harassed whilst out running. She said: “I still don’t really know how much of this is criminal, if much of it. [ … ] I would find it helpful for there to be a clear and widely publicised policy on reporting of public sexual harassment.”81

Image-based sexual abuse and the law

47.Technology is facilitating new forms of public sexual harassment, and the law is often running to catch up. These forms include viewing pornography on smartphones in public, and a range of image-based sexual abuse including ‘revenge porn’, ‘upskirting’ (taking photos of videos up someone’s skirt without their consent), non-consensual sending of ‘dickpics’, and ‘deepfake’ or photo-shopped images. Professor Clare McGlynn is a legal expert in this area at Durham University; she told us that “our individual choices and privacy [are] being compromised and we are being subjected to non-consensual sexual activity” as a result of technological developments.82 A 2018 YouGov poll found that 41 per cent of younger women had received unsolicited ‘dickpics’; of these, 23 per cent said they found it “distressing” and 17 per cent found it “threatening.” Almost half (46 per cent) of millennial women who had received a ‘dickpic’ were younger than 18 the first time it happened.83

48.Pre-internet era laws such as the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981—which criminalises the public display of “indecent matter”—are little-known and likely to be little-used.84 Developments in law have started to take account of some new forms of technology-facilitated abuse. This was initially in relation to ‘revenge porn’: the distribution of a private sexual image of someone without their consent and with the intention of causing them distress, which was criminalised under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. This law was criticised by campaigners, researchers and others for not encompassing a greater range of activity and motivations, and not providing victims with the anonymity provided for victims of other sexual offences.85

49.In June 2018 the Government introduced the Voyeurism (No. 2) Bill which aims to make ‘upskirting’ a specific criminal offence. DI Cooper of the Sexual Offences Coordination Unit in British Transport Police told us:

We do manage [upskirting] through other offence categories, such as outraging public decency, but that does not always quite fit the bill, so to speak. So one issue is legislation to basically catch up with the way that the times have moved on and with how people now have cameras on their phones and things like that, which is how this offence occurs.86

50.The Government recognises that much sexual harassment is motivated by notions of power and entitlement.87 Laws on image-based sexual abuse, however, do not currently take account of this: by focusing on sexual motivations only, they limit the scope of the offence. The Government needs to be more forward-looking when tackling the ways in which technology is facilitating sexual harassment, rather than forever racing to catch up with changing ways in which perpetrators sexually harass women and girls.88 These forms of abuse are on a continuum with other sexual harassment and sexual violence, and victims should be afforded the same support and protection of anonymity in the justice system.89

51.The legal framework around sexual harassment in public places is piecemeal, and the Government has a tendency to react to problems such as ‘upskirting’ as they hit the headlines. Laws on image-based sexual abuse are not based on an understanding of power and entitlement as the factors behind perpetration of sexual harassment; they focus too narrowly on perpetrator motivations and do not provide the protection of anonymity for complainants.

52.The Government should introduce a new law on image-based sexual abuse which criminalises all non-consensual creation and distribution of intimate sexual images, including altered images, and threats to do so. This should be a sexual offence based on the victim’s lack of consent and not on perpetrator motivation, and include an automatic right to life-long anonymity for the complainant, as with other sexual offences.

Policy on violence against women and girls

53.As noted above, sexual harassment cannot be tackled through laws alone. Sexual harassment of women and girls in public places is a cross-cutting policy issue which is relevant to a number of different agencies and departments including transport, local government, policing and education. The Home Office-led Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy 2016–2020 is a cross-government policy which sets out work on sexual and other violence against women and girls under four pillars: prevention, provision of services, partnership working and pursuing perpetrators.90 Organisations such as Rape Crisis England and Wales and Plan UK told us that sexual harassment in public places should be understood as being on a continuum with other forms of violence against women and girls, and that it therefore should be embedded in the VAWG strategy.91 Indeed, sexual harassment is the most common form of violence against women and girls.

54.The VAWG strategy document contains only two references to sexual harassment, however; these references are made in relation to specific initiatives involving universities and public transport, neither of which is currently driven by central government. We took evidence from the Minister for Women, Victoria Atkins MP, who is also the Home Office Minister with responsibility for violence against women and girls. We put it to her that sexual harassment is a significant a gap in the strategy. She agreed, and told us that the strategy would be “refreshed” later in 2018.92

55.We asked the Minister whether there was any particular civil servant co-ordinating a strategy on sexual harassment in public places. She told us that, while there is a “wealth” of civil servants advising on violence against women and girls, she would be “cautious” about having one single person concentrating solely on sexual harassment because of the risk of “siloing”. She explained:

What I am trying to do in all this work is draw together all of these different teams of civil servants, not just in the Home Office but across GEO, so that they are all thinking about sexual harassment when it comes to, for example, gangs and how we are tackling gang crime.93

However, it is not clear how this work is being drawn together. When we asked the Minister whether the Government should be asking the Office for Students for data on sexual harassment in a university setting, for example, she said that she would ask the universities Minister to write to us because “I do not know the intricacies of the relationship between the Department and the organisation”.94 We asked the Minister whether there were officials in each government department who have policy on sexual harassment in their brief or job description. She told us that she was not familiar with job descriptions across Whitehall, but that work was drawn together at ministerial level and subjected to “peer on peer scrutiny” by the inter-ministerial group on violence against women and girls, at which sexual harassment was discussed.95

56.When we asked the Minister if she thought we would feel that the Government had a coherent strategy on sexual harassment in public places she said:

I would hope that the Committee is reassured by our very clear intention to refresh the VAWG strategy. The fact that [the Department for Transport] and [the Department for Education] have done work in their own departments on this shows what can be done. However, I think there is room for improvement, if I am honest; I do think there is. I hope that frankness will encourage the Committee to give a full report and to give us ideas as to where you have identified, from the evidence you drawn together, that we should be improving.96

Community projects and support

57.An essential part of an effective strategy is working with and supporting community groups and projects to tackle the problem. Community responses, such as specialist support for survivors and projects working with men and boys, are internationally recognised as a key part of the response to sexual harassment and the culture that underpins it.97 There is a plethora of community responses to sexual harassment in public spaces in the UK, including the Everyday Sexism Project which started in 2012 as way of giving victims of sexual harassment a platform for sharing their experiences.

58.Valuable as these projects are, there is no central funding for community initiatives on sexual harassment and funding for specialist sexual violence services does not meet demand. The Government said it is committed to ensuring that every victim of sexual assault has access to the specialist support they need and says there are helplines and services for people who have experienced sexual abuse.98 However, Rape Crisis England and Wales told us that that Rape Crisis centres are “increasingly operating at capacity and are underfunded.”99 Central information is not kept about what individual Police and Crime Commissioners are doing in their areas to provide support for victims of sexual harassment, but the Minister told us she would write to them to obtain that information.100

59.In signing up to the Sustainable Development Goals, the Government has made a commitment to eliminate sexual harassment of women and girls by 2030. The Government was not, however, able to provide us with evidence of a comprehensive plan or programme of work for achieving this goal and making public places safe for all women and girls. While we agree with the Minister that a siloed approach to such work would not be effective and that it needs to be embedded across government, at present the foot appears to be almost entirely off the pedal. The Government has not caught up with the huge social changes reflected in the #MeToo movement. Instead it risks giving the impression that it thinks sexual harassment is either too trivial to address, or that the problem is immune to policy intervention.

60.The Government already has a well-regarded cross-departmental strategy for tackling Violence Against Women and Girls. It is astonishing that the most common form of violence against women—sexual harassment—is currently almost entirely overlooked in that strategy. We welcome the Minister’s commitment to refreshing the Violence Against Women and Girls strategy later in 2018, and we expect to see specific actions to address sexual harassment, much of which is already prohibited in law, in the new document. Those actions need to be supported by dedicated funding and staffing, and developed in partnership with community organisations. The Government must exploit the full range of policy levers at its disposal, and must set out the milestones to be met on the way to fulfilling the 2030 goal. We expect the strategy to set out a comprehensive programme of work to make all public places safe for all women and girls.

Data collection on sexual harassment in public places

61.Robust information is a pre-requisite for developing effective policy. The Government does not collect data specifically on sexual harassment in public places, leaving it to others to build a picture. The Government told us:

Sexual harassment in public places is not centrally measured, and so we do not have evidence of prevalence, nor changes over time. Some incidents of sexual harassment may constitute criminal offences, but conviction data do not show which were a result of sexual harassment.101

62.A number of witnesses commented on the implications of this.102 Dr Fiona Vera-Gray of Durham University suggested that the limited evidence base and absence of shared definitions and terminology around sexual harassment in public places may be part of the reason why this is an underdeveloped area of policy. Marai Larasi, Director of Imkaan, told us that the lack of data affects resourcing of services and support, because “we have ended up with a hierarchy of violence against women and girls with sexual harassment being seen as a low-level thing and other things seen as more extreme.”103 The Minister for Women told us she had “a very open mind as to what more we should be doing to measure this in the future.”104

63.The Government has left it to others to collect data on sexual harassment in public places. Even where there is data on specific criminal offences, such as indecent exposure, it is not brought together. This means that there is no central measurement of the problem upon which to develop policy, and no way of knowing whether the incidence of sexual harassment is increasing or decreasing, or whether women and girls of particular backgrounds are particularly targeted.

64.Data on sexual harassment in public places should be collected through the Crime Survey of England and Wales or brought together through other official data-gathering processes. It should be broken down so that the Government can start to build a picture about the particular ways that different groups of women and girls are targeted for abuse. This data should underpin the development of the comprehensive programme of work to tackle sexual harassment in public places.

Preventing sexual harassment in public places

65.As with other social harms, we would expect the Government’s goal to be to prevent sexual harassment from happening. Indeed, the UK has clear international obligations to take action to prevent sexual harassment along with other forms of violence against women and girls.105 Many of those making submissions to us called for far more work on preventing sexual harassment before it begins.106 Plan UK argued that:

There is an urgent need to work with young men to improve their attitudes, knowledge and awareness about how unwelcome stranger harassment is and the impact it can have on girls’ lives. [ … ] exploring gender stereotypes, masculinity and mental health with boys could serve as an appropriate gateway to open up conversations about harassment.107

Similarly, Professor Vanita Sundaram told us that:

If we can challenge current expectations for masculinity and femininity in early years settings, scaffolded by work with parents and communities, we can address the root causes of sexism, sexual harassment and sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls in public places, and elsewhere.108

66.There are numerous models and theories of change for violence prevention which the Government could employ to address the causes of sexual harassment.109 The UN’s 2013 large-scale multi-country study ‘Why do some men use violence against women and how can we prevent it?’ recommended that prevention work should focus on areas including: changing social norms related to the acceptability of violence and the subordination of women; promoting non-violent masculinities oriented towards equality and respect; working with young boys to address early ages of sexual violence perpetration; promoting healthy sexuality for men and addressing male sexual entitlement; and ending impunity for men who rape.110 There have been evaluated programmes in the United States, supported by the federal government, that have been shown to result in a change in attitudes and behaviours around sexual harassment.111

67.The UK, too, undertakes work on prevention, but its focus is overseas. The Department for International Development’s flagship ‘What Works to Prevent Violence’ programme focuses on research and innovation to produce evidence on prevention. The UK Independent Commission for Aid Impact reported in 2016 that “No other donor has invested comparable resources into VAWG research [ … ] this is a highly respected initiative with the potential to make a major contribution to knowledge in the field.”112 The Government therefore already has some of the expertise that it needs to bring to bear in the UK context.

68.The Government recognises that prevention needs to be part of its work to tackle violence against women and girls. The VAWG strategy states that:

Preventing violence and abuse from happening in the first place will make a significant difference to overall prevalence of these crimes. We will continue to challenge the deep-rooted social norms, attitudes and behaviours that discriminate against and limit women and girls across all communities.113

In its response to our report on sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools, the Government made commitments to establishing a programme of qualitative research into the attitudes and behaviours of young people in order to better understand the underlying drivers of inequality and harassment among young people, and providing more in-depth information about so-called “low-level” behaviours.114

69.In the course of the present inquiry, the Government affirmed that it is committed to challenging myths and stereotypes around harassment and sexual misconduct to ensure that the impact of sexual harassment is properly understood:

We understand that sexual harassment of women in public places is the result of harmful social norms that can perpetuate unequal power relations between men and women, and create an environment in which sexual harassment can occur.115

We were told that the Government Equalities Office (GEO) is taking forward a programme of work to address harmful social norms. This entails “mapping the evidence base and initiatives that engage men, boys and bystanders in violence against women and girls prevention, as well as meeting with stakeholders working in this area”.116

70.In response to our question about the UK’s commitment under the Sustainable Development Goals to eliminating all sexual and other violence by 2030, the Minister told us:

It is our objective, and we are working hard to make it happen. We have, as you know, a great deal of work to do in terms of changing social norms, educating boys and young men that it is not acceptable to shout the sorts of things you have just referred to, but that is absolutely our objective.117

The Minister did not, however, set out how this objective was going to be achieved. We have not seen any further details of the programme of work the GEO says it is undertaking, such as timescales, funding or the outcomes of meetings with stakeholders. It is not clear to us, therefore, how the Government is fulfilling its responsibility for sending clear messages to men and boys that they are not entitled to sexually harass women and girls.


71.Our inquiry on sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools in 2016 demonstrated the importance of education for preventing sexual harassment. To be effective, work with young people needs to be informed by a gendered approach to understanding both perpetration and victimisation. In line with findings from the British Social Attitudes Survey, our research found some concerning trends in relation to young people’s belief in traditional gender norms which are connected to acceptability of sexual harassment. For example, 18–24 year olds are most likely (20 per cent compared with a national average of 14 per cent) to think that men deserve to know where a girlfriend is at all times.118 While more research is needed, such beliefs appear to endorse a sense of male entitlement which other research shows is strongly related to perpetration.119 Our own research suggests that this belief is related to acceptability of sexual harassment in public places.

72.Our research shows clear public support, particularly amongst women, for educative work with young people on sexual harassment in public places. One woman said “we need to educate people that is for sure” whilst another said “I think it needs to be made clear to boys in school about what is and isn’t harassment”. As a universal service for young people, school is a prime site for work to prevent sexual harassment and yet has been overlooked by central government until recently.

73.The Government told us that it is “working to engage with young people about respect and equality in order to prevent sexual harassment from happening in the first place” and that this is why it is making Relationships Education mandatory in all primary schools and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) mandatory in all secondary schools:

Through Relationships Education and RSE, we expect young people to be taught about what constitutes a positive, healthy relationship, as well as providing young people with an understanding of consent and boundaries.120

The original intention was for this to be introduced in 2019, but the statutory guidance will not now come into force until September 2020.

74.The Government also told us that younger children can be exposed to and influenced by negative gender stereotypes, so it has “updated our Media Smart resources (with the Advertising Association) to help teachers and parents improve primary school children’s understanding of how gender is represented in the media and their resilience to negative content.”121

75.The introduction of Relationships Education in all primary schools and Relationships and Sex Education in all secondary schools provides a welcome opportunity to ensure that concepts such as healthy relationships, consent and boundaries are communicated to children. It is disappointing that the statutory guidance will not come into force until September 2020, and we urge schools not to wait until then to review their policies and practices to ensure they are taking every possible action to prevent sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence.

Public campaigns

76.Public campaigns and awareness-raising are key features of international obligations on prevention, based on studies about effective ways of tackling social norms that underpin violence and harassment, and were widely supported in the evidence we received.122 Article 13 of the Istanbul Convention requires Parties who have ratified the Convention to regularly promote or conduct awareness-raising campaigns, with women’s organisations and others, to increase public understanding of sexual and other violence against women and the need for prevention.123 The Concluding Observations of the CEDAW Committee in the UK’s last reporting cycle in 2013 included a recommendation to “continue public campaigns to raise awareness of all forms of violence against women, including black and ethnic minority women.”124

77.Some work of this sort has been undertaken in the UK. The Home Office’s ‘Disrespect Nobody’ campaign (initially called ‘This Is Abuse’) is targeted at 12–18 year olds. It aims to prevent young people becoming perpetrators or victims by “helping them understand healthy relationships and encouraging them to re-think their views of controlling behaviour, violence, abuse, sexual abuse and what consent means.”125 However, it is not embedded in a wider programme of work on preventing sexual harassment. Those working in the field also criticise the Government for the relative lack of investment and ambition in such campaigns. Dr Fiona Vera-Gray told us that the Government should “invest in long-term, multi-platform attitudinal change campaigns, including working with media on ‘edutainment’ programming, in order to change gender norms and prevent public sexual harassment.”126 Marai Larasi, Director of Imkaan, made a comparison to the Government’s long-running road safety campaigns:127

We have the evidence of work on drink-drive and seatbelts. It is not like we have not had a history in this country of doing far-reaching public campaigns. We need to do some work around this, because at the moment it is inconsistent and dependent on individual champions in local authorities and local areas and great caseworkers to pick this up. The Government need to create a framework located in the violence against women and girls agenda to deal with this.128

78.As with any social harm, prevention should be the Government’s aim. Prevention must therefore be the foundation of the new programme of work to eliminate sexual harassment. The Government has previously committed to tackling harmful social norms that underpin sexual harassment, but we have seen little evidence of specific or comprehensive work underway to do this. Opportunities to embed a preventative approach in schools, through media regulation, through public awareness campaigns and through crime policy (such as the Modern Crime Strategy), for example, are being missed. The Government must show leadership in seeking to change the cultural acceptability of sexual harassment. It should develop a long-term, evaluated programme of public campaigns to tackle the attitudes that underpin sexual harassment, targeted at both adults and children.

79.In order to prevent sexual harassment, the Government needs a robust understanding of why it happens, who perpetrates it, and how men and women differ in their understandings and experiences of the problem. It must understand the cultural attitudes and social norms that lead to or enable sexual harassment, and how to go about challenging and changing them. Without understanding these factors, it is not possible to design and implement effective policy solutions.

80.The Government’s preventative work should be clearly based on the available research evidence—from the UK and elsewhere—about the cultural factors, attitudes and norms that lead to or enable sexual harassment to take place and how these can be effectively challenged. The available research is not sufficient, however. The Government must also commission ongoing, large-scale research into these factors in the UK to inform its programme over the longer term.

Hate crime

81.One policy option for responding to sexual harassment that has been the subject of recent debate is to categorise misogyny as a hate crime. The National Police Chiefs’ Council definition of ‘hate crimes’ is “any crimes that are targeted at a person because of hostility or prejudice towards that person’s identity.” This currently includes disability, race or ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation and transgender identity, but not sex or gender. Those who support tackling sexual harassment as part of policing of hate crime say that it would send a message that this behaviour is unacceptable, recognise that it is motivated by hostile attitudes towards women, and give victims more confidence to report. The policy is supported by women’s organisations including Women’s Aid, the Fawcett Society and the Everyday Sexism Project.129

82.Others point out that not all forms of sexual harassment constitute a criminal offence and that, because it is usually perpetrated by strangers there would be little prospect of justice for victims.130 Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria Vera Baird QC argued for those reasons that the benefit for victims of a hate crime categorisation would be debateable, and that the categorisation would simply be a recording tool for the police.131 The idea has also been criticised for removing sexual harassment from the context of other forms of violence against women and girls.

83.In April 2016, Nottinghamshire Police began classifying ‘misogyny’ as a hate crime or incident.132 The force told us that misogyny may be understood as “incidents against women that are motivated by the attitude of men towards women, and includes behaviour targeted at women by men simply because they are women.” This could include unwanted sexual advances, physical or verbal assaults, or use of mobile devices to send unwanted messages or take photographs without consent or permission.133

84.Between April 2016 and March 2018, 174 women reported misogynistic hate crime to Nottinghamshire Police, of which reports 73 were classified as ‘crimes’, and 101 were classified as non-criminal ‘incidents’. There was one conviction during this period. An evaluation of the policy published in June 2018 found that, while there was high public support for the policy once it was explained, there was little awareness of it and it had not improved the generally low rate of reporting by victims. This suggests the need for policies such as this to be backed up by public awareness campaigns and promotion if they are to be effective.134 Some other police forces also now include ‘misogyny’ or ‘gender’ in their hate crime policies although it is not national police policy to do so.

85.Nottingham Women’s Centre, which has driven the change in Nottinghamshire, told us that women in the area said they felt safer and more confident as a result of the new policy, and that women “know they can report it, they will be listened to and that they will be taken seriously. Nottinghamshire has sent the message that this behaviour is not acceptable.”135 Since giving evidence to us, the Government has announced that it will be asking the Law Commission to review hate crime legislation. It has said that this review “will include how the protective characteristics, including sex and gender, should be considered by new or existing hate crime law.”136

86.We support the Government’s approach of asking the Law Commission to review hate crime legislation. That review should consider whether categorising sexual harassment of women and girls in public places as a hate crime would bring substantive advantages to victims and achieve a reduction in the incidence of such harassment.

70 Compliance and enforcement policy, Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2015

75 Portugal’s law against street harassment, Stop Street Harassment website, accessed October 2018

77 Home Office (SPP0104)

78 A member of the public (SPP0073)

80 Plan International UK (SPP0071)

81 A member of the public (SPP0077)

82 Professor Clare McGlynn (SPP0047)

84 Watching porn in public - a modern form of street harassment? , Huffington Post blog by Clare McGlynn, April 2017

85 ‘Revenge porn’ is a form of sexual assault, Huffington Post blog by Clare McGlynn, March 2018

88 Professor Clare McGlynn (SPP0047)

89 Professor Clare McGlynn (SPP0047), Mr Luke Collins (SPP0032), Miss Zoe Tongue (SPP0061)

91 Rape Crisis England & Wales (SPP0088), Plan International UK (SPP0071)

98 Home Office (SPP0104)

99 Rape Crisis England & Wales (SPP0088)

101 Home Office (SPP0104)

102 Plan International UK (SPP0071)

105 Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (General Recommendation 19), Council of Europe Convention on prevention and combating violence against women and domestic violence

106 Professor Vanita Sundaram (SPP0059), Rape Crisis England & Wales (SPP0088), End Violence Against Women Coalition (SPP0096)

107 Plan International UK (SPP0071)

108 Professor Vanita Sundaram (SPP0059)

114 Women and Equalities Committee, Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools: Government response to the Committee’s Third Report of Session 2016–17, First Special Report of Session 2016–17, HC 826

115 Home Office (SPP0104)

116 Home Office (SPP0104)

118 See Annex

120 Home Office (SPP0104)

121 Home Office (SPP0104)

122 Q119, Safer Streets Sheffield- Know the Line (SPP0048), Rape Crisis England & Wales (SPP0088), Dr Fiona Vera-Gray (SPP0076), End Violence Against Women Coalition (SPP0096)

124 Concluding observations on the seventh periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Committee on the Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, 2013

126 Dr Fiona Vera-Gray (SPP0076)

127 Story of THINK! , THINK! website, accessed October 2018

130 Dame Vera Baird QC (SPP0087)

131 Dame Vera Baird QC (SPP0087)

132 Susannah Fish (SPP0056)

133 Nottinghamshire police (SPP0049)

134 Misogyny Hate Crime Evaluation Report, Professor Louise Mullany and Dr. Loretta Trickett, June 2018

135 Nottingham Women’s Centre (SPP0063)

136 HC Deb, 5 September 2018, col 253 [commons chamber]

Published: 23 October 2018