Everyone should have the right to walk down a street without fearing harassment. It is deeply concerning that, as you state, UN Women UK has recently stated that over 70% of women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment in public. We urgently need action to address this appalling behaviour.
I firmly believe a new law which makes street harassment a specific criminal offence needs to be introduced. This is vital to helping make meaningful change in the everyday experiences of women and girls.
The UK Government has committed to publishing a new strategy on tackling violence against women and girls, and has said street harassment will be a part of this strategy. However, this strategy will not be published until later this year, and I believe we need to act urgently.
I believe the UK Government must now commit to working on a cross-party basis to introduce a long overdue street harassment law to protect women and girls. I also believe there is a need for a long overdue change in the law so that misogynistic acts are treated as the serious hate crimes they are.
The Law Commission is currently undertaking a review into hate crime, looking at how to make current legislation more effective and to consider if there should be additional protected characteristics. I welcome the fact that it has proposed that sex or gender should be added to the protected characteristics for the first time.
While the UK Government has said it is waiting for the outcome of the Law Commission’s review before making long-term decisions in this area, it has announced that on an experimental basis, it will ask police forces to identify and record any crimes of violence against the person, including stalking and harassment, as well as sexual offences, where the victim perceives it to have been motivated by hostility based on their sex. It is aiming for the experimental collection of data to begin this autumn.
I welcome this announcement as I believe it is a step in the right direction towards ending misogyny. We must tackle the misogynistic attitudes that underpin the abuse women and girls face.