Street harassment in the UK: What are your rights?

Danielle Fowler
Freelance Writer
Where can victims of street harassment in the UK seek support? [Photo: Getty]

ICYMI, a 22-year-old woman was hit in the face by a male passerby in Paris last week after she told him to “shut up” for harassing her. The disturbing footage has since reignited a legal debate on street harassment.

The clip of Marie Laguerre’s ordeal soon went viral after she shared the footage via Twitter.

In the caption, she described her attacker’s behaviour as “unacceptable” before adding: “It happens everyday, everywhere and I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t have a similar story. I am sick of feeling unsafe walking in the street. Things need to change, and they need to change now.

The video quickly gathered traction globally, amassing over 800,000 views on YouTube, leading France’s Equalities Minister, Marlène Schiappa, to promise to push forward with on-the-spot fines by autumn.

According to the BBC, offenders who commit a blatantly “sexist act” – defined as “any act with the aim of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment” – will have to pay between $90 to $750 (approximately £80 to £700).

The discussion of fines is set to raised in French parliament this week.

But are victims of street harassment in the UK protected by the legal system?

Is street harassment illegal in the UK?

In the UK, sexual harassment is recognised as a form of discrimination under the 2010 Equality Act while harassment in public spaces is illegal under legislation such as the Protection from Harassment Act and the Public Order Act

But street harassment has yet to be made a criminal offence.

The UK government’s failure to acknowledge the growing epidemic is, quite frankly, baffling, as the rest of the world is slowly dealing with the seriousness of street harassment.

In Portugal, verbal harassment of women is classed as a crime and abusers can be fined up to 120 euros (approximately £95). Some cases are even punishable by up to a year in prison.

According to The Guardian, in Peru a similar bill defines harassment as any act which impacts “another person’s right to physical and moral integrity” and is punishable by up to 12 years in prison. 

While over in Belgium, a 2014 law introduced fines and imprisonment of up to one year for street harassment.

How many women in the UK are victims of street harassment?

Last year, the British Transport Police reported that the number of recorded sexual offences on trains had doubled between 2002 and 2017.

While another study conducted by Hollaback and Cornell University, discovered that 84 percent of women are harassed by the time they turn 17 – with that figure reaching 90 percent here in the UK.

But these shocking stats don’t even brush the surface of reality.

How many times have women been told to “smile” by strange men in bars or have been wolf-whistled at on their way to work?

A large majority of victims don’t report their experiences through fear while others have simply grown accustomed to catcalling as an everyday part of life.

But it’s clear that many don’t view street harassment in the same light as other crimes. A 2017 YouGov study further demonstrates this, as the older generation failed to see wolf-whistling as an offensive gesture.

According to findings, 64 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds believe that wolf-whistling should be classed as sexual harassment.

Meanwhile, only 15 percent of women aged 55 or over agreed.

Where can victims of street harassment seek help?

After her own personal experiences with street harassment, Holly Kearl founded Stop Street Harassment – a website designed to be a place where people can learn about the issue, find helpful resources and share their own personal stories.

For victims of street harassment, Kearl emphasises that t here is no one “right” way to seek support but over on the site, there’s advice on what to do both during and after the incident. 

“Street harassment can be really upsetting and so identifying someone supportive to talk to about it with is important. Sharing your story and finding ideas for dealing with it can also be productive ways to recover and heal,” Kearl tells Yahoo Style UK.

“It’s often useful to learn what tactics have worked for other people to gain ideas for what you can try when you face street harassment. Victims can find these kinds of stories on our blog as well as in our book,   50 Stories about Stopping Street Harassers.”

How to report street harassment

If you’re a victim of street harassment and would like to report the incident, you can fill out an online form via True Vision – a site dedicated to combatting hate crime.

If you wish to stay anonymous, you can call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 or visit their website for further information.

If you are in immediate danger, do not hesitate to call 999.

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Read more from Yahoo Style UK:

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What to do if you’re experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace