René Cassin responds to Government’s Public Sexual Harassment Consultation

1 Sep, 2022 | Latest, Women's Rights

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We have responded to the Government’s public consultation on sexual harassment, following guidance from Plan International and Our Streets Now. Our thanks go to Plan International and Our Streets Now for their hard work on this. This action is a continuation of our work supporting women’s rights, together we can ensure that women and girls can walk down the street safely, free from fear of harassment and violence.

Please see below for a joint statement we have signed:

As members of the gender equality, violence against women and girls, children’s, human rights and disability sectors, we are calling for public sexual harassment (in legal terms, ‘unwanted sexual contact’) to be clearly and unambiguously criminalised in all its forms. 

We do not agree that public sexual harassment behaviours are already adequately covered in the law. Many acts of sexually harmful behaviour fall through the legal cracks, despite the immediate and longer-term harm they cause to victims. That is why we are calling for comprehensive legislation to provide clarity for both law enforcement and the general public, and to ensure that women, girls and marginalised groups are protected from all types of public sexual harassment. 

Whilst we welcome the Government’s consultation on this issue, which presents a unique opportunity to tackle the piecemeal approach to legislating harmful behaviours, the options currently presented (aggravating existing public order offences based on the assumption that this occurred due to the perceived sex of the victim) are not viable. 

Any legislation covering public sexual harassment must centre on what this offensive conduct actually is – sexual conduct that is unwanted – and criminalise all sexually intrusive and abusive acts in public that current legislation does not catch. This is what has been recommended by the Law Commission1, and is clearly set out in the Istanbul Convention2. Plan International UK and Our Streets Now have drafted a third option which would capture the practical – and symbolic – legislative changes so urgently needed to address this issue 

Furthermore, focusing on whether the offence occurred due to the victim’s perceived sex has a strong possibility of excluding marginalised communities, and rather than providing clarity on what constitutes criminal behaviour, it will lead to complex legal debates about the perpetrator’s motivation. 

It is essential that Government considers these views and concerns, to take the steps needed in ensuring that no one walks home in fear of their safety.

We are eagerly awaiting the outcome of this consultation. If you would like to learn more about the work of Plan International and Our Streets Now, please visit the links below:

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