But what does this actually mean?
New plans to tackle violence against women and girls (aka VAWG), could be made illegal in England Wales.
Street Harassment in the UK
Initially the home secretary Priti Patel asserted that a new street harassment law would not be made.
However, the government has said that they’re “looking carefully at where there may be gaps in existing law”.
Patel commented that she’s “determined to give the police 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”.
These seem like bold promises but what could this actually mean?
According to a government press release, the bill is apparently focusing on long-term change. These are the steps that are being taken to action ‘immediate change’:
- A new national policing on Violence Against Women and Girls who will report into the Home Secretary-chaired National Policing Board. They will be the point of contact for every police force to ensure best practice is shared and that progress on improving the response to these crimes is being monitored.
- A review of options to limit use of Non-Disclosure Agreements in cases of sexual harassment in higher education.
- A £5 million ‘Safety of Women at Night’ Fund, in addition to the £25 million Safer Streets Fund Round 3. This focuses on the prevention of violence against women and girls in public spaces at night, including in the night-time economy. This could include targeting parks and alleyways, routes from bars, restaurants and nightclubs, as we begin to see the return to night-time economy.
- Criminalising virginity testing, which some women and girls are being forced to undergo. This will send a clear message that this practice is unacceptable in our society.
- Appointing two new Violence Against Women and Girls Transport Champions, to drive forward positive change and tackle the problems faced by female passengers on public transport.
- This follows on from further measures taken this year, including investing an additional £25 million into the Safer Streets Fund focusing on increasing the safety of public spaces. This will have a particular interest on areas of concern for both women and girls.
This strategy has been widely welcomed by many, including many activists and MPs. However, it has been criticized for two reasons. Firstly, it’s been criticized for not being all-encompassing enough. Secondly, it has been criticized for not tackling wider societal issues surrounding misogyny and violence against women.
Additionally, there has been criticism on the heavy reliance on policing to ‘solve’ the issue. Previously in the year, many have criticized the government’s pilot scheme to introduce undercover officers in clubs to protect women. Many people have felt that this is a way that increase opportunities of exploitation and did not actually tackle the true issues at hand.
The shadow minister for domestic violence, Jess Philips, has stated:
“It has absolutely nothing in it about the sexual exploitation of adult women or any real sense about how it is going to ensure crimes like indecent exposure will be taken more seriously…Saying it on a document doesn’t make it so.”
Additionally, the director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Andrea Simon, commented:
“While the language is bold the funding detailed so far will not ensure the government can produce its promise: a radical change in the whole system.”
Furthermore, some have even criticized the use of the term violence against women and girls for attempting to shift the blame away from the perpetrators.
Finally, Eliza Hatch, founder of CheerUpLuv, has criticized the media for “sensationalist use of terms like ‘catcalling’ or ‘wolf whistling’, which make aggressive verbal sexual assault sound playful and mild…these things are just the tip of the iceberg within a multi-layered issue which all stems from the same place: a deeply entrenched misogyny in society.”