Police Crack Down on Sexual Harassment with New Guidance

The legislation will introduce harsher sentences if someone who deliberately harasses, alarms, or distresses someone in a public place does so because of the victim's sex, with the maximum sentence increasing from six months to two years.

The amendment, tabled by the bill's sponsor Greg Clark MP, will require the government to produce statutory guidance for the police to help them enforce the new offence.

MPs have now agreed that the statutory guidance should become part of the bill. It will clarify how the legal defence available to defendants, whereby they could prove that their conduct was "reasonable", should be applied. The guidance will make clear that what is deemed "reasonable" is what would objectively be considered reasonable, not what the defendant claims is reasonable.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said:

Women have the fundamental right to walk the streets without fear and I'm committed to ensuring that criminals who intimidate and harass them face the consequences.

This is why we are backing the Protection from Sex-Based Harassment in Public Bill, and after carefully considering a range of views, we have supported an amendment that will require the government to produce statutory guidance for the police to help them enforce the new offence.

The new guidance will clarify in particular how the 'reasonable conduct' defence should be interpreted, to ensure any new law is as robust as possible.

Greg Clark MP said:

Too many women and girls feel unsafe when alone on our streets, especially at night. They should not have to put up with that but too often they do - resorting to safeguards like walking at night with their keys clenched in their hands, precautions that most men don't have to think about.

My bill would correct a loophole in the law in which it is not a specific offence to harass someone in public on the grounds of their sex but it is on, for example, the grounds of their race. It aims to change the culture so that it becomes as obviously unacceptable to abuse, humiliate and intimidate women and girls in public as it is to do so because of a person's race or sexuality.

The government announced its support for the legislation in December 2022 after consulting a wide range of experts on introducing a specific offence. The consultation showed the need for a specific offence to make the laws surrounding public harassment clearer to both the public and the police. Despite public sexual harassment already being illegal, the introduction of a specific offence will encourage women to report to the police, as well as emphasising the severity of the crime.

The bill has now completed all stages in the House of Commons and will be considered by the House of Lords.

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