Public street harassment is set to be criminalised in England and Wales under new plans to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG).
The government has said they’re “looking carefully at where there may be gaps in existing law”, and home secretary Priti Patel said she’s “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”.
The VAWG strategy will introduce a new national police chief whose repsonsibility it will be to tackle violence against women and girls, while the Ministry of Justice will commission a 24/7 rape and sexual assault helpline.
According to a government press release, the bill is focusing on longterm change, but these are the steps they’re taking to action ‘immediate change’:
- A new national policing lead on Violence Against Women and Girls who will report into the Home Secretary-chaired National Policing Board. They will also be the point of contact for every police force to ensure best practice is shared and that progress on improving the response to these crimes is being monitored.
- A review of options to limit use of Non-Disclosure Agreements in cases of sexual harassment in higher education.
- A £5 Million ‘Safety of Women at Night’ Fund, in addition to the £25 million Safer Streets Fund Round 3, that focuses on the prevention of violence against women and girls in public spaces at night, including in the night-time economy. This could include targeting parks and alleyways, and routes from bars, restaurants and nightclubs as we see a return to the night-time economy.
- Criminalising virginity testing, which some women and girls are being forced to undergo, to send a clear message that this practice is wholly unacceptable in our society.
- Appointing two new Violence Against Women and Girls Transport Champions, to drive forward positive change and tackle the problems faced by female passengers on public transport.
- This follows on from further measures taken this year, including investing an additional £25 million into the Safer Streets Fund focused on increasing the safety of public spaces for all, with a particular focus on areas of concern for women and girls.
The strategy has been widely welcomed but has been criticised for not being all-encompassing enough nor tackling the wider societal issues around misogyny and violence against women.
“It has absolutely nothing in it about the sexual exploitation of adult women or any real sense about how it is going to ensure crimes like indecent exposure will be taken more seriously,” the shadow minister for domestic violence. “Saying it on a document doesn’t make it so.”
Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said:
“While the language is bold the funding detailed so far will not ensure the government can produce its promise: a radical change in the whole system.”