The government is failing to address street harassment of women and young girls in the UK, a new report has said.
The Women and Equalities Committee is calling for urgent action to tackle public sexual harassment after it carried out a nine-month inquiry.
It said the “relentless” nature of the behaviour “normalised” it for girls growing up, “contributing to a wider negative cultural effect on society”.
The Home Office said tackling this issue was a “key priority”.
The committee heard evidence that street harassment was widespread and took place in a number of public spaces – from transport through to bars and clubs, online spaces, universities, parks and on the street.
Committee chairwoman Maria Miller said: “It can make women and girls scared and stressed, avoid certain routes home at night or certain train carriages, wear headphones while out running.
“Women feel the onus is put on them to avoid ‘risky’ situations – all of this keeps women and girls unequal.”
The report concluded that social attitudes, including the disrespect of women and an assumption by some men that they can behave in this way, underpinned sexual harassment.
And whilst the government has pledged to eliminate sexual harassment of women and girls by 2030, the committee said there was “no evidence of any programme to achieve this”.
The report outlined seven key recommendations to tackle street harassment:
- Force train and bus operators to take tougher action against sexual harassment and block the viewing of pornography on public transport
- Ban all non-consensual sharing of intimate images
- Publish a new “Violence Against Women and Girls” strategy
- Create a public campaign to change attitudes
- Take an evidence-based approach to addressing the harms of pornography, along the lines of road safety or anti-smoking campaigns
- Tougher laws to ensure pub landlords take action on sexual harassment – and make local authorities consult women’s groups before licensing strip clubs
- Make it a legal obligation for universities to have policies outlawing sexual harassment
Ms Miller said: “Sexual harassment in public places… is the most common form of violence against women and girls and the damage is far-reaching, and yet most of it goes unreported.
“The #MeToo movement shows that we must confront some deeply uncomfortable truths about our society and the attitudes some men hold.”
The Home Office said it had pledged £100m in funding until 2020 to help local services combat violence against women and girls.
And it said it was working on an updated “Violence Against Women and Girls” strategy.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Unwelcome advances that intimidate, degrade or humiliate women and girls are an abuse of power and unlawful. Whether in the home, the workplace or in public, sexual harassment is unacceptable.
“The government has made protecting women and girls from all forms of violence, and supporting victims and survivors a key priority.”
She said the Home Office would consider the report’s recommendations before publishing a full response.
The government is failing to address street harassment of women and young girls in the UK, a new report has said. The Women and Equalities Committee is calling for urgent action to tackle public sexual harassment after it carried out a nine-month inquiry.