Government ministers have indicated today (July 21) that the acts of wolf whistling and cat calling could soon be made illegal in England and Wales.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the government would be “taking action” on a range of safety concerns, with new proposals unveiled as part of the Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy.
“We will continue to look at gaps in existing law and how an offence for sexual harassment could address those,” Ms Patel told The Times.
The new strategy is said to have been published against a recent backdrop of dismal conviction rates for rape offences. According to the i, less than 2% of cases lead to a conviction last year even though the number of reported incidents are on the rise.
It has been revealed that last year, just 1,439 suspects were convicted of rape and other sexual offences.
This is despite an estimated 128,000 people coming forward with reports.
Writing in the Times, amid reported plans to tackle wolf whistling and cat calling, the Home Secretary added: “We are taking action on street harassment [and] I am committed to ensuring not only that the laws are there, but that they work in practice and women and girls are confident their concerns will be taken seriously.
“It is important that the police enforce the law and give women the confidence that if they report an incident, it will be dealt with.”
Although the Home Secretary has indicated that the government will move to crack down on public sexual harassment, immediate new legislation is not expected to be introduced.
Rose Caldwell – Chief Executive of Plan International UK – said she was “very disappointed” that the strategy does not include the quick implementation of legislation on public sexual harassment, adding: “Without a new law, millions of girls will be left unprotected.
“However, the government has recognised that this is an urgent issue that needs more attention [and we urge it] to quickly deliver its promise to review gaps in the legislation – and then it must commit to a new Public Sexual Harassment Law.”
Prominent campaign group Our Streets Now – which is committed to “ending public sexual harassment in the UK by changing culture and creating a criminal offence” – has also released a statement on Twitter in response to the plans.
They have called it the “big first step” in recognising the “radical changes needed to address public sexual harassment”.
A number of other women’s groups have also responded.
Andrea Simon – Director of End Violence Against Women Coalition – said: “The seriousness and scale of violence against women warrants radical change and a whole systems approach which has prevention at its heart [and] we welcome the recognition of this in the government’s new strategy.”
She continued: “However, to make this a strategy that delivers change, there must be accountability and the right level of funding that follows all aspects of the work.
“There is a distinct lack of resourcing here that cannot be ignored.”
Also in response to the new proposals, Shadow Home Office Minister Jess Phillips said: “The services and support required to end violence against women and girls cannot run on warm words alone.
“How are we in a situation where we have better protections for statues than for women?”
“The government should step up to the plate and take action rather than more warm words,” she concluded.
A number of other measures announced in the strategy this afternoon include increasing support for victims and survivors, reversing declines in conviction rates, and reducing attacks, as well as further pledges for a new 24/7 rape and sexual assault helpline and two new ‘Violence Against Women and Girls Transport Champions’ who will look at how protection can be offered on public transport.
It has been confirmed that a new ‘StreetSafe’ app will also be launched so women and girls can record areas they feel unsafe.
Featured Image – Pxfuel