Sexual harassment to be included in strategy to tackle violence against women and girls

Sexual harassment will be included in the Government’s latest strategy to tackle violence against women and girls.

Ministers have agreed that sexual harassment “creates an environment in which violence against women and girls is both hidden and normalised”.

The Women and Equalities Committee had previously expressed “astonishment” that the most common form of violence against women – sexual harassment – was almost entirely overlooked in the strategy.

Amid the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns, the Government has looked again at the strategy and set out a new programme with a focus on sexual harassment as well as domestic abuse.

Committee chairwoman Maria Miller welcomed the fresh approach to the issue, which she said “pervades the lives of women and girls” but often remains “invisible” to men.

Ms Miller said evidence from women, police and researchers showed “cat-calling in the street, upskirting on public transport, misogynistic abuse online or sexual assault in pubs and clubs or at university” was very common.

“Yet it is so everyday and routine that it is often invisible to those who don’t experience it,” she said.

“I am therefore delighted the Government has accepted our key recommendation that this should be robustly tackled through its cross-government violence against women and girls strategy.”

Ms Miller said she was also pleased the Government had responded positively to the majority of 20 recommendations from the committee, including on data collection, women’s safety on public transport, and media regulation.

But she stressed concerns that there was not yet “a comprehensive programme of work in place” for preventing and addressing the problem

She added: “This is just the start of the journey and Government departments, public bodies and local authorities now need to sit down with women’s groups and other experts and develop a comprehensive programme of work to make public places safe for all women and girls.”

The original report cited surveys which found that 64% of women – rising to 85% among 18 to 24-year-olds – had experienced unwanted sexual attention in public places, with 35% reporting unwanted touching.

More than 60% of girls and young women said they did not feel safe walking home and growing numbers of girls said they felt unsafe online.

The report detailed incidents ranging from wolf-whistling to unwanted sexual comments, groping and sexual rubbing on public transport, upskirt photographs, rape threats and men exposing themselves.

Research on young men in the UK found that nearly one in three had made sexually harassing comments to a woman or girl in a public place in the previous month, the report found.

It cited evidence that harassers come from all income levels, educational backgrounds and ages, but are most likely to be found among men who have a strong belief in gender stereotypes and “toxic” forms of masculinity.

Lucy Russell, head of girls’ rights and youth at children’s charity Plan International UK, agreed more needs to be done by the Government.

She said: “With Plan International UK’s latest survey revealing 66% of girls and young women have been sexually harassed in public, girls have told us they want to hear a clear message that harassment in public places isn’t OK.

“We would like to see a stronger and longer term commitment to this message to help drive forward a shift in general attitudes.

“We would also like to see a commitment to action at a local level to help girls.

“Local authorities and police and crime commissioners should be recognising street harassment in their strategies to end violence against women and girls to send a clear message that this behaviour is not OK.”

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