Government supports a new public sexual harassment offence

Image credit: “Anti-Sexual Harassment, Anti-Police Failures Demo, Press Syndicate” by Hossam el-Hamalawy حسام الحملاوي is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Public sexual harassment (‘PSH’) will be made a specific offence through government-backed legislation. It is believed that creating an offence would contribute to cultural change and send a clear message that this behaviour is unacceptable.

PSH can, when it happens, lead to adverse emotional effects on the victims, including impacts on their mental health. It can cause people to feel unsafe, even if they do not actually experience PSH behaviour, and that can impact similarly on their well-being.

A wide range of experts were consulted over the summer on introducing a specific offence. The vast majority considered public sexual harassment to be a widespread problem (Of the 25 invited respondents 22 said that public sexual harassment is a widespread problem in this country).

The consultation showed the need for a specific offence to make the laws surrounding public harassment clearer to both the public and the police.

Despite public sexual harassment already being illegal, the introduction of a specific offence will encourage women to report to the police, as well as emphasising the severity of the crime.

The change will provide that if an offence is committed under existing section 4A Public Order Act 1986 (intentionally causing someone harassment, alarm or distress), and is done because of the victim’s sex, then they can get the higher maximum sentence of two years, when previously the maximum was six months.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said “any action to tackle the epidemic of violence against women and girls is welcome”, but she urged the government to “go further and faster”.

She added: “Labour has a plan to put rape and domestic abuse specialists in every police force in the country, introduce fast-track rape courts and a domestic abuse register, and overhaul police training so that every victim gets the best possible support.”

The new offence is likely to come into force Summer of 2023.

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