New Plans To Tackle Sexual Harassment Against Women And Girls Unveiled

But government criticised for not going far enough.

The government is to collect data on sexual harrassment in workplaces and public spaces – including on transport, in bars and restaurants, and on the street – in order to build a pool of evidence on harassment, and better understand how it is affecting victims.

But it has been criticised for ignoring recommendations to introduce a new image-based abuse law that would have criminalised revenge porn, deep fake pornography, upskirting and cyberflashing in one piece of legislation.

The plans are a response to a report on sexual harassment in public spaces, which was published by the Women and Equalities Committee in October 2018, and identified “some uncomfortable findings about British society”.

Maria Miller, MP, who chairs the Women and Equalities Committee, yesterday told HuffPost UK that the government was “making the right noises” but failing to do anything “with teeth”.

“They have accepted the straightforward recommendations but what they haven’t done is tackle more substantive issues, particularly on image-based abuse,” said the conservative MP for Basingstoke.

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In its report, the Womens and Equalities Committee called for a new image-based abuse law criminalising non-consensual creation and distribution of intimate sexual images. It would cover not just upskirting, which has been illegal since April 2019, but revenge porn, deep fake pornography and cyberflashing – instances of which HuffPost has been reporting on since 2017.

“It is clear that we have to have a new law to deal with image-based abuse if we’re going to get the sort of culture change the government itself wants to see,” Miller told HuffPost UK, confirming that she and the committee would continue to press for it.

The government, however, claims that laws to capture such behaviour already exist, such as the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and – if an image is sent more than twice and constitutes a “course of conduct” – the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

“The piecemeal approach of current set of laws is confusing,” Miller said. “Having a new law and tackling all forms of image-based abuse – not just now but those that will be dreamed up in the future – is long overdue. It is disappointing the government haven’t picked that up from our report.”

The government also rejected the Women and Equalities Committee’s proposals for social media platforms to be included as websites requiring age verification when the ‘porn block’ comes into action on 15 July .

And while the government partially accepted that more needs to be done to stop people viewing pornography on public transport, it also argued that WiFi providers on trains have filtering systems and railway bylaws already prohibit such behaviour.

However, all public transport operators should have sexual harassment policies as part of their franchise agreement, following the example set by Transport for London, the government said – suggesting wider adoption of the ‘Report It to Stop It’ campaign, which encouraged passengers to report unwanted sexual behaviour to police.

Data on sexual harassment will now be collected through the Crime Survey of England and Wales and retained in a central database to help the government build a pool of evidence on harassment – and better understand how it is affecting victims. No commencement date for this work was given.

The government will also encourage schools to begin teaching the new sex and relationships curriculum in advance of its statutory start date of 2020, but rejected the committee’s proposals that universities should be made accountable for acting on student safety on campus.

The rejections have led the Women and Equalities Committee to express concern that the government does not have a plan in place for addressing or preventing the problems of sexual harassment in public places.

The committee’s view is that in practice although policy may have shifted, this has not been translated into actions needed to be able to tackle the issue.

The government has however accepted the committee’s recommendations to research the underlying factors contributing to sexual harassment, and to conduct a review of how online spaces are being used as a site for sexual harassment.