Britain Introduces Measures to Curb Street Harassment and Violence Against Women
- by NewYorkTimes
- July 21, 2021
LONDON — The British government on Wednesday unveiled proposals to curb the harassment of women on the streets, part of a wider crackdown on violence that comes months after a national outcry over the murder of Sarah Everard, who was abducted while walking home this year.
The plan was shaped by 180,000 testimonies from survivors of abuse and other members of the public, mostly delivered in the months after Ms. Everard’s death. Ms. Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, went missing as she walked home from a friend’s house in South London around 9:30 p.m. in early March. Her body was later found several miles from the house of a London police officer who pleaded guilty in her kidnapping, rape and murder. He is expected to be sentenced in September.
The proposals for England and Wales, which will come into effect in the coming months, include funding for an app for women and girls to record streets where they feel unsafe and specify why, such as a lack of lighting or surveillance cameras. Police will then work with community leaders to improve safety in those areas, the government said.
A process has also been set up for women to report verbal or physical harassment they face on public transportation, a government spokeswoman said.
The government will also provide funding for programs aimed at protecting women at bars and nightclubs, such as a program that would assign plainclothes police officers to patrol such venues. The government will also look into the use of nondisclosure agreements in cases of sexual harassment in higher education. Critics say nondisclosure agreements have enabled abusers to silence their victims.
Priti Patel, Britain’s home secretary, said that she did not accept that violence against women and girls was inevitable.
“I am determined to give the police the powers they need to crack down on perpetrators and carry out their duties to protect the public whilst providing victims with the care and support they deserve,” she said in a statement on Wednesday.
Some questioned whether the measures would be enough. Ms. Everard had taken precautions the night she disappeared: She was walking down a well-lit street and had running shoes on.
Women’s Aid, a British charity that supports survivors of abuse, said the government should do more to address violence inside of homes. The group said the British police receive a call every minute about domestic violence, and nine out of 10 of those calls are from women being abused by men.
Sophie Francis-Cansfield, the policy manager at Women’s Aid, said the government’s proposal was too narrow.
“It doesn’t deliver anything particularly radical, and it doesn’t address those root causes of inequality that women and girls face,” she said.
Public harassment is just one type of misogynist and sexist behavior that women face, said Ms. Francis-Cansfield, who called on the government to better support community groups that are working to stop violence against women.
Public anger over violence against women and girls in Britain, and a lack of government response, has escalated in recent months. Government ministers apologized in June after a review found that the criminal justice system had failed thousands of rape and sexual assault victims. The review reported a 59 percent drop in rape prosecutions in England and Wales in the past six years, even as the number of reported rapes nearly doubled in that time.
And that’s just reported rapes. The government estimates that only 20 percent of rapes are reported to the police.
The government said the new measures to combat the harassment of women would complement initiatives already laid out to toughen sentences for rapists and increase protection for victims.