Why I shared experiences of sexual harassment with the Home Secretary
I have just come off an online meeting with the Home Secretary – I, alongside five other #CrimeNotCompliment youth campaigners, on behalf of the over 20,000 people who have joined the campaign, met directly with Priti Patel to share our experiences of public sexual harassment and why we must see legal change on this issue.
I’m Isabelle and I am 19. I have advocated for legislative change on public sexual harassment for a number of years as part of Plan International UK’s Youth Advisory Panel. Having previously met with my local Police and Crime Commissioner, the Strategic Crime Board and spoken at a Rail Delivery Group on this issue, I believe this opportunity to speak truth to the Home Secretary was a key moment to increase the safety of women, girls and marginalised genders in the UK.
This landmark roundtable comes as part of the Home Office’s development of its new strategy on tackling violence against women and girls. Speaking to the Home Secretary was a surreal experience. I am grateful that she gave her time to hear our thoughts and experiences. Along with Nimco Ali, she actively engaged in our ideas, showed her commitment to ending violence against women and girls, and agreed that this form of harassment was unacceptable. Her support for our work is encouraging and I look forward to the outcomes of the Government's strategy.
And you can have your say too – as part of this process the Home Office is running a public survey to hear from you about your experiences, concerns and opinions.
94% of girls in the UK think that harassment should be illegal. But currently the law is fragmented. There is no piece of legislation that specifically protects against public sexual harassment. I have heard perpetrators, when told to stop, say ‘I’m not touching you so it’s not illegal.’ We need as many people as possible to fill in this Home Office survey to show that this situation needs to change.
Tips on completing the survey:
- The survey asks what behaviours should be considered a crime which currently aren’t. Types of harassment girls face every day such as leering, following, sexual gestures, so-called ‘cat-calling’ and cyber flashing are not currently sufficiently covered by the law. Let's take this opportunity to call on the Government to recognise that all forms of public sexual harassment, have a very harmful impact on girls and our access to public places, and should be a criminal offence.
- It also asks how confident you would feel if you experienced an incident in accessing support and what further support you feel is required. At present, I feel there is not enough support when we experience sexual harassment in public places. This is partly because the law is not always on the side of the victim, in fact, it is often non-existent. This must change, for girls to be able to report incidents and receive the support they deserve.
- They also ask for your opinion on what the Government’s priority should be in tackling violence against women and girls – this is a clear chance to share the campaign by adding ‘making all forms of sexual harassment a crime’ and ranking that as priority number 1.
This survey is such a vital chance to share our experiences directly with the Government - I hope you will join me in taking it. Any one aged 16 or over can take part, all responses are anonymous, and it should take less than 15 minutes to complete. The tips above are just a guide - please take this opportunity to share what feels important to you personally. There are no right or wrong answers, and all questions are optional. It can be upsetting and triggering to think about these topics, so only engage as much as you are comfortable to and seek support if you need it - the end of the survey provides a list of organisations who can offer help and support.
Public sexual harrasment does not exist in a vacuum but rather it is a continuum of abuse pervasive across society, starting with beliefs and supposedly trivial ‘locker room talk’, to online abuse towards women and graphic sexual content shared online, to harrasment anywhere from the streets to public transport, to assault and violent crimes.
Together, let’s take this opportunity to get our voices heard. This can be the generation to end the harassment of girls in public and to make the streets in this country safer for everyone.
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