MPs will open an inquiry into sexual harassment of women and girls in public places amid concern that “very little attention” is paid to stopping routine catcalling, groping and offensive behaviour.
Maria Miller, Conservative chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, said there was “huge public concern” over sexual harassment as a torrent of allegations of abuse and inappropriate behaviour emerged from Hollywood, Westminster and other areas of public life.
The committee will scrutinise what is being done to root out everyday harassment on public transport, in the street, and in shops and bars, and examine how police, local authorities and other bodies can prevent unwanted attention.
Around 85 per cent of women aged 18 to 24 years old have experienced unwanted sexual attention in public places, of which 45 per cent experience unwanted sexual touching, according to a YouGov survey in 2016.
Meanwhile, reported sexual offences on trains have more than doubled in the past five years to 1,448 offences in 2016-17, up from 650 in 2012-2013.
Former culture secretary Ms Miller said: “We know that there is huge public concern about sexual harassment, particularly of women and girls, which is why we held an evidence session in December to look at women’s experiences of harassment in different places and how these experiences are linked.
“We know that sexual harassment can be experienced by anyone, but the evidence shows that it is overwhelmingly a problem that is perpetrated by men and boys against women and girls and forms part of the wider inequalities that women and girls experience, which is why we are focusing on this.
“Women and girls are harassed on buses, trains, in the street and in bars and clubs. We are putting a spotlight on a problem that seems to be so routine in women’s lives, and yet has received very little attention in public policy.
“We want to find out why it happens, what the Government is doing to root it out, and what more can be done.”
Ms Miller has spoken out in the past about her own experience of sexual harassment, which she said occurred “numerous” times throughout her life.
An earlier inquiry by the committee also revealed children as young as six were suffering sexual violence at school, with some forced to share classrooms with their attackers.
The probe comes after women at the centre of the Westminster sexual harassment scandal said they lacked confidence that political parties would do enough to rid Parliament of abuse.
Tory activist Kate Maltby, who accused former Cabinet minister Damian Green of inappropriate behaviour, Ava Etemadzadeh, a Labour supporter who made allegations against MP Kelvin Hopkins, and former special adviser Bridget Harris, one of Lib Dem peer Lord Rennard’s accusers, warned that efforts to tackle endemic abuse and harassment were unlikely to succeed.
A cross-party working group has been looking into the issue after claims of sexual harassment rocked Westminster, leading to the suspensions of a string of MPs.
However leaked plans on how to bolster the complaints procedures were branded “too vague” by campaigners.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies