WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
May 21 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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Government urged to lower threshold for proving street sexual harassment

Government urged to lower threshold for proving street sexual harassment

Pic: Patrick Maguire
Red Cell: Patrick Maguire from Proof magazine, issue 4

An open letter urges legislators to re-evaluate the bar for street sexual harassment as they claim current legislation “places a burden on victims”. The publication of the letter coincides with the House of Lords debate on the protection from sex-based harassment in public bill.

Though the bill has been viewed as a victory for campaigners who have been lobbying for it for many years, many are still concerned it leaves the door open for perpetrators to claim they “only meant it as a joke”. This is because, as the bill stands, complainants would have to prove that the behaviour towards them was “intentional” and aiming to cause “harassment, alarm or distress”.

Kathleen Spencer Chapman, head of policy, advocacy and research at Plan International UK, and Gemma Tutton, co-founder of Our Streets Now, states that although it is “encouraging to see all sides of the house – and the government – continue to support this bill” it is wrong that complainants must prove an alleged perpetrator “intended to cause distress or alarm”.

The letter, published on the Plan International UK website, includes signatories like UN Women UK, Suzy Lamplugh Trust and White Ribbon UK. Other organisations involved include The Fawcett Society, Girl Guiding and Refuge.

In the letter they state: ‘As charities advocating and working with women and girls, we believe the actual harm suffered by victims, rather than the intent of perpetrators, should be at the heart of legislation.’

The bill also criminalises cyberflashing, but only when the intention is to “cause alarm, distress or humiliation” or “sexual gratification”. A government spokesperson has responded to the open letter, clarifying the legal position and doctrines of criminal law: ‘We disagree with the notion that there will be a burden on victims to ‘prove’ the perpetrator’s intention in cases of public sexual harassment. As in any prosecution, the defendant’s guilt must be proven by the crown, including mental elements such as intent.’