Why has the government not made catcalling illegal?

·4-min read
Photo credit: SOPA Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: SOPA Images - Getty Images

Prompted by protests and the outpouring of stories following the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, a young woman who was kidnapped and killed by police officer, Wayne Couzens while walking home, the government pledged to do better by women and girls. Over 180,000 responded to their consultation on the abuse of women in public spaces.

Spearheaded by Home Secretary, Priti Patel, those in power said they'd be pulling together a new strategy on how to better protect women and girls from all forms of violence, including street harassment – and today, their Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy has been made public. But not everybody, including campaigners who've been lobbying for change on these topics for years, is happy with it.

The VAWG strategy has promised a £5 million 'safety of women at night fund', which includes the (much contested) plan to have undercover policemen in bars protecting women and a 'StreetSafe' app, where women can log the areas in which they feel most threatened in order for better protections, such as extra streetlights or CCTV cameras, to be put in place. It also commits to running a public health campaign to raise awareness about sexual harassment.

The strategy pledges a review of using Non-Disclosure Agreements in cases of sexual harassment within educational establishments too, and has promised 'Transport Champions', whose roles will be to protect women from sexual harassment on public transport

Photo credit: TOLGA AKMEN
Photo credit: TOLGA AKMEN

While many of these proposed new steps have been welcomed, sisters Maya and Gemma Tutton, who have been campaigning since 2019 to make street harassment a specific criminal offence, say the WAVG plan is flawed – as it still doesn't fully commit to making street harassment illegal, as proposed by campaigners.

Tory MPs, including Caroline Nokes and Maria Miller, and Nimco Ali - a feminist author who was appointed by Priti Patel to advise the strategy - all backed the legislation to make public sexual harassment (PSH) a criminal offence. Campaigners argue that the current legislation is antiquated and does not reflect contemporary street harassment crimes.

Right now, as to whether or not PSH is set to become illegal, is unclear. But it's something activists say they'll continue to fight for. When the VAWG was published today (21 July), the government - instead of announcing plans to create a new law - simply pledged that it was "looking carefully at where there may be gaps in existing law".

Yesterday, it was also reported that the Home Secretary may actually be shelving plans to introduce make PSH illegal.

Maya, who co-founded Our Streets Now (OSN) after a man made derogatory sexual remarks to her then eleven-year-old sister, Gemma, said, "We are disappointed to see this isn’t yet a full commitment [and] we will continue to campaign until it becomes one. We deserve to feel safe and be safe in public space. Our streets should be ours, now."

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

Maya and Gemma have also campaigned for public sexual harassment (PSH) to be taught in schools, yet the Department of Education still says it's only reviewing ‘existing guidance’ on the sex education curriculum. OSN research found that 64% have never been taught about PSH in school, despite 1 in 5 girls aged 14 to 21 saying they have experienced harassment.

"The lack of education on this issue fails to properly support victims and misses vital opportunity to prevent boys from becoming perpetrators," Maya continues. "The curriculum desperately needs changing, and we will continue to push until every child in the UK is taught about PSH."

Maya argues that what is truly needed, alongside proper legal repercussions, is a cultural change. "Tackling harassment will require a whole system approach in which we rethink not only our laws but how we design our lives, how we use public transport and how we teach our children marks a key step in ending this violence."

The Home Secretary said she was "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".

Cosmopolitan has reached out to her team for further comment on why the potential criminalisation of public sexual harassment appears to have been put on hold.

You Might Also Like

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting