The Government has launched a public sexual harassment consultation and is interested, amongst other things, to explore links to taxis and nighttime economies.
On the gov.uk website, the Government said:
"In the nationally representative survey of 2,000 people which formed part of the Call for Evidence, 44% of respondents felt that public sexual harassment was happening more often in England and Wales than five years before (including 18% who felt that it was happening much more often) compared to 10% who felt that it was happening less and 35% who felt that there had been no change.
"In May 2022 the Office for National Statistics published statistics relating to perceptions of safety and experiences of harassment, based on the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey conducted between 16 February and 13 March 2022.[footnote 1] It found that:
One in two women and one in six men felt unsafe walking alone after dark in a quiet street near their home.
45% of women and 18% of men felt unsafe walking alone after dark in a busy public place.
82% of women and 42% of men felt unsafe walking alone after dark in a park or other open space.
One in two women aged between 16 and 34 years experienced one form of harassment in the previous 12 months, with 38% of women aged between 16 and 34 having experienced catcalls, whistles, unwanted sexual comments or jokes, and 25% having felt that they were being followed.
54% of people who reported feeling unsafe during the day, and 46% who reported feeling unsafe after dark, had altered their behaviour, as a result, in the previous month."
The Government’s view is therefore that behaviour amounting to public sexual harassment is already covered by existing criminal offences (subject to the individual circumstances of the case). We know that others take a different view, and we respect that. The Government would not seek to create a new offence if it would create overlap with new offences (because, for example, this would create uncertainty and additional work for police and prosecutors). Based on our own analysis that public sexual harassment behaviour is already covered by existing offences, we could not therefore propose creating a wholly new offence.
However, there is an option of adding to an existing offence, rather than creating a new one. It would be possible to provide that if a person commits an existing offence and does so on the basis of the complainant’s sex, then they could receive a higher sentence than if they had committed the offence without that motivation. This would avoid the problems which arise with overlapping offences. We present two possible models of such an offence in this consultation.
The Government has not, however, made a decision on whether there should be such a new offence. Even though a legislative solution may be possible, it does not necessarily mean that it is the right policy course. It may be that existing criminal offences (including ensuring that the police are fully confident in using them) and non-legislative measures are a better way to tackle public sexual harassment, and although, as set out earlier, we have taken several non-legislative actions, it may be that there are others which we could take too.
In this consultation, we are therefore consulting on the following issues:
The principle of whether there should be a new law specifically covering public sexual harassment;
If there were to be such a new law, whether one of the two options we set out would be the correct model for it; and
Whether there are additional non-legislative actions which the Government should take (either in addition to or instead of a new offence).