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Sunak pledges ‘down-blousing’ criminal offence as Tory candidates vie to be tough on violence against women

Liz Truss promises law to ban misogynistic and offensive street harassment

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 27 July 2022 22:41 BST
Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak (Jacob King/PA)
Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak (Jacob King/PA) (PA Wire)

The contenders for the Conservative leadership were today competing to show they are tough on violence against women and girls, with Rishi Sunak proposing a new “down-blousing” offence and Liz Truss offering a law against misogynistic street harassment.

Mr Sunak said that as prime minister he would create a new emergency taskforce to hunt down grooming gangs, as well as tightening the law to ensure perpetrators remain behind bars for longer.

And Ms Truss said she would rapidly introduce a National Domestic Abuse Register to break the cycle of repeat offending by abusive men.

The announcements come as the pair battle for the votes of 160,000 Conservative members in the race to succeed Boris Johnson, with Truss leading in the polls ahead of the issuing of ballot papers next week.

They follow a series of high-profile cases in which women including Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa have been murdered by strangers in the street.

Mr Sunak said that sexual violence against women and girls should be treated as a “national emergency”.

“As a father of two girls, I want them to be able to go for a walk in the evening or to a shop at night without any fear of threat,” he said.

“As chancellor I boosted support for victims to record levels – quadruple those under Labour – and a ground-breaking new approach to policing which is helping drive up prosecutions of sex offenders.

“As prime minister I will go further. I will make it a criminal offence if you harass women by taking intimate images of them without their consent and will introduce a major crackdown on grooming gangs.”

In the wake of allegations that police held back from investigating grooming gangs involving men of Asian backgrounds, Mr Sunak said: “We cannot let sensitivities over race stop us from catching dangerous criminals who prey on women.

“I will not stop until we live in a society where women and girls can go about their daily lives feeling safe and secure.”

Under his plans to “hunt down and stamp out” grooming gangs, ringleaders would face maximum life sentences while others will automatically face criminal charges for belonging to or facilitating the activity of the ring.

A new National Crime Agency emergency taskforce would launch an investigation into any town or city with significant grooming gang activity, with powers for force suspects to explain why they have phone numbers or other contact details for children.

And a National Grooming Gangs Whistleblower Network would create a dedicated database to help the police monitor suspects.

A new criminal offence would target so-called “down-blousing”, where perpetrators take photos down a woman’s top without their consent.

Ms Truss announced a package of women to protect women and girls, including a stand-alone offence of street harassment.

The National Domestic Abuse Register would cover all forms of domestic abuse, including coercive and controlling behaviour and financial abuse.

Convicted offenders would have to inform the police of arrangements with new partners and their children and officers would be able to share information with the Sex Offenders Register and consider tagging for the most violent domestic abusers.

Ms Truss also said she would speed up the process of bringing rape cases to court and ensure all courts are equipped with the technology to use pre-recorded video.

“Over the last two years, our nation has been shocked by a number of high-profile murders of women,” said the foreign secretary.

“Violence against women and girls doesn’t have to be inevitable. Women should be able to walk the streets without fear of harm and perpetrators must expect to be punished.

“Through increased police training, new offences, faster processes for rape victims and our Domestic Abuse Register we will ensure victims are protected, and crimes are prevented in the first place.”

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