Street harassment law being blocked, suggests Government adviser

Nimco Ali was appointed by Priti Patel to advise the Home Office in 2020.

Benjamin Cooper
Friday 20 May 2022 07:30
A message in a campaign to tackle violence against women and girls (Gareth Fuller/PA)
A message in a campaign to tackle violence against women and girls (Gareth Fuller/PA)

A Government adviser on preventing violence against women and girls has suggested her demand for street harassment to be criminalised is being blocked.

Nimco Ali, who Priti Patel appointed to advise the Home Office in 2020, wants behaviour including wolf-whistling, catcalling and staring persistently to be made a crime punished with on-the-spot fines.

The Government in July announced a crackdown on sexual harassment, with its strategy developed after a public consultation taking in evidence from 180,000 people, the vast majority during a two-week period following the murder of Sarah Everard.

One of the things that I've seen is that a department and a Secretary of State can have an opinion and then there can be other things (where there is) pushback

Nimco Ali

Ms Ali told the BBC’s Political Thinking with Nick Robinson podcast she had experienced “pushback” over her campaign.

“For me, I would specifically love (for) public sexual harassment to become a crime.”

Nimco Ali (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“One of the things that I’ve seen is that a department and a Secretary of State can have an opinion and then there can be other things (where there is) pushback,” she said, before clarifying the pushback came from “other people”.

“And Cabinet responsibility is a thing – so that’s why I’m saying ‘as a thing’, it’s not just individual, so I do think that there is at times a very masculined conversation where the Government, in how Government and institutions work, so we need to be able to address that,” she added.

As part of the crackdown launched last year, the Government said it would not rule out creating new laws over street harassment, saying: “We are looking carefully at where there may be gaps in existing law and how a specific offence for public sexual harassment could address those.”

At the time, Ms Patel said: “The safety of women and girls across the country, wherever they are, is an absolute priority for me.

“It is unacceptable that women and girls are still subject to harassment, abuse, and violence, and I do not accept that violence against women and girls is inevitable.

The Government said at the time also said it would not rule out creating new laws over street harassment, saying: “We are looking carefully at where there may be gaps in existing law and how a specific offence for public sexual harassment could address those.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel has said the safety of women and girls across the country was an ‘absolute priority’ (Aaron Chown/PA)

It also vowed to look at whether street design features could help improve personal safety in public, while it will also pilot an online tool called StreetSafe, allowing members of the public to anonymously highlight locations where they feel particularly vulnerable.

The announcement also contained measures including a public campaign “focused on creating behavioural change” which the Government hopes will challenge misogyny in society, as well as pledges to ensure police know how to effectively respond to allegations.

Marketing executive Ms Everard, 33, was kidnapped, raped and killed by off-duty Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens in March 2021 as she walked home, and prompted a widespread outpouring of grief and demonstrations over concern for women’s safety.

Last year’s Government announcement received a mixed response from campaigners, with Rachel Almeida from Victim Support saying: “Only system-wide, societal change will end violence against women and girls.

“It is vital there is a shift from the ‘victim-blaming’ culture and poor police treatment for victims that has contributed to dismal justice outcomes for the majority of survivors.”

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