The interior minister said that the government is considering making street harassment of women a crime, as the administration prepares to release fresh plans to combat violence against women and girls. After the kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard, a young woman walking home in London, worldwide outrage about women’s lack of protection in public spaces erupted, the government has promised to improve regulations.
As she prepared to present suggestions on how to support women reporting public sexual harassment and cut down on male violence, Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a comment piece in The Times that wolf-whistling might become a specific offense.
According to Patel, the government is taking action against street harassment and will “continue to look at loopholes in existing law and how a sexual harassment crime could address those.”
“I am dedicated to ensuring that laws are not just in place, but that they are enforced, and that women and girls have confidence that their concerns will be heard,” she said.
Everard, 33, was killed by police officer Wayne Couzens while walking home in London in March, sparking a “national discourse about these concerns,” Patel said, proving “the need to help victims and do more to prevent similar murders.”
Despite more women coming forward to report sexual assaults, the UK government and police have come under fire for a precipitous drop in rape convictions.
The government’s ideas include establishing a new national policing lead to combat male violence against women and appointing two officials to prevent violence against women and girls on public transportation.
The policy also calls for making so-called virginity testing illegal, which Patel described as a “barbaric practice.” However, advocates for women’s and girls’ rights have criticized the plans as not going far enough. Plan International UK’s chief executive, Rose Caldwell, expressed her disappointment that the strategy did not already include a new ban against public sexual harassment.
“We urge the government to fulfill its promise to investigate loopholes in the law as soon as possible — and then to commit to a new Public Sexual Harassment Law,” she said.
Jess Phillips, a member of the opposition, also urged the government to take a more specific action.
“Warm words alone will not be enough to provide the resources and assistance needed to end violence against women and girls,” the Labour MP stated.