Terence Blacker: Wolf-whistles aren't matters for the courts

Making relatively trivial acts into crimes puts women in the role of victims

Share

The Great Offensiveness War is about to enter a new phase. Something called "street harassment" is to be the subject of new laws, the Government announced this week. Street harassment is defined as "unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person". If you think that definition covers a wide spectrum of human behaviour, you would be right. A word, a whistle, a look could soon be construed as an assault on another's dignity – "psychological violence", as the statement puts it.

The proposed legislation has been welcomed by the many sincere busybodies who believe that there is too much nastiness in the world, and that it is the job of the state to do something about it. Nastiness should be banned, niceness legally enforced.

The Government, which once argued that there are too many laws, has embraced these new controls. Aware that his party has a blokeish image, the Prime Minister seems to believe – in a typically patronising male way – that banning wolf-whistles will endear him to female voters. Cynically combining the announcement concerning street harassment with another covering the incomparably more serious crime of stalking, the Government's own niceness tsar, Nick Clegg, boasted that higher standards of protection for women would now be in place, with "greater support for victims".

There is something distinctly creepy about this plan to make disrespect a matter for the courts. As it happens, the vast majority of women are not in need of protection. If annoyed by someone who violates their dignity, they are more than able to cope with the situation in their own way without the help of the state.

Women who are genuinely victims are already protected by the law. In fact, making relatively trivial acts into crimes will have the very opposite effect of that intended: it will put women in the role of victims, cowering behind the protection of Nick Clegg and his niceness police.

Nor is it a small matter, putting yet more words and gestures within the reach of the law. Far from empowering individuals, it strengthens the grip of the state on the everyday life of its citizens. Once the idea is accepted that personal nastiness should be illegal, there is no end to the list of words, phrases, expressions and whistles which might upset someone somewhere.

These initiatives are seductive and an illusion of progress. They are an easy vote-winner for politicians, while granting yet more power to them and to the police. But they eat into our freedoms, bringing the law and the state into areas of behaviour that should be the responsibility of individuals. The niceness laws, stealthily extending their control over the way we behave on behalf of the offended, are a threat to us all, women and men.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones