Boris Johnson has enraged the Home Secretary by overturning attempts to make public sexual harassment a crime. This has raised concerns in the Home Office that the prime minister sees the problem as a mere “wolf whistle”, rather than an aggressive attack on women and girls in his daily life.
Sources say tensions have arisen between Johnson and Priti Patel, and other top Home Office figures, after they blocked plans to make public sexual harassment a specific crime.
Patel’s consultation on how to address violence against women and girls drew comments from 180,000 contributors, most sent after Sarah Everard’s murder in March, and many respondents complained of being harassed on a daily basis.
Johnson announced last week that he did not support any new laws to address violence against women, citing “abundant” legislation. This caused concern throughout the Interior Ministry.
Sources believe that the prime minister has completely misjudged the public mood following the murders of Everard and, more recently, Sabina Nessa, both of whom were attacked while walking through the capital.
A senior source in the Interior Ministry, who requested anonymity, said: “Trying to reduce it to the howling of wolves is hugely problematic. But let’s make this happen. People are willing to put their political capital behind this, and the Home Secretary is among those far behind. “
Another source said the prime minister seemed not to understand the issue: “Make no mistake, Boris Johnson is the person blocking and holding this back. He seems to be stuck in the past on this topic. “
TO survey earlier this year revealed that more than half of the women reported experiencing sexual harassment on London public transport. The most common offense, experienced by more than a third of those surveyed, was being deliberately pressured by a stranger. The investigation, conducted by YouGov, suggested that tens of thousands of incidents on buses and the subway go unreported.
The issue of crimes against women has come under fierce scrutiny since Everard’s abduction, rape and murder by Metropolitan Police Officer Wayne Couzens.
Despite Johnson’s words, it is understood that Home Office officials are conducting a legal review to make sexual harassment public, covering all behavior that could make women uncomfortable in all public spaces, a crime in itself.
Patel’s strategy to address violence against women and girls, published in July, states: “We are carefully looking at where there may be gaps in existing law and how a specific crime of public sexual harassment could address them.”
Indecent exposure became a sex crime nearly 20 years ago, although, as the Couzens case underscored, these incidents, even when reported to the police, are often not taken seriously.
Georgina Laming, Campaign Manager for the Children’s Rights Charity Plan International UK, said: “This year, tens of thousands of women and girls have told the Ministry of the Interior about their experiences of harassment and violence. Girls as young as 10 are being harassed, followed and touched, and millions of them are forced to change the way they live their lives because of it.
“Public sexual harassment is relentless and must stop. The Home Office acknowledged that there are real gaps in the legislation, which means that existing laws do not protect girls from these behaviors. “
Other influential supporters of making public harassment a crime include Victoria Atkins, a former safeguard minister, who last month became justice minister, and Caroline Nokes, chair of the women’s and equality committee.
Justifying his reasoning last week, Johnson said changing the law would mean more work for the police.
However, Sophie Linden, deputy mayor for crime and policing in London, told the Observer that turning such behavior into crime was important to making the streets safer for women and girls. “We have been pushing very hard on several fronts,” she said, “including making sexual harassment a crime in itself, which will make a difference for women and girls who walk.”
Women’s groups are also interested in highlighting bullying as an intersectional problem, also related to racism. Plan International’s Laming said: “Our data shows that an overwhelming majority of girls of color have experienced public sexual harassment, with one in six saying that the harassment they face is also related to their race. Public sexual harassment is serious, and when girls are approached in public spaces, they are subjected to threatening, violent and sexually explicit behavior. ”
In addition to blocking a new law on harassment, the prime minister personally intervened to torpedo attempts to turn misogyny into a hate crime. However, it emerged this weekend that fellow Tories and MPs plan to challenge Johnson and go ahead with attempts to change the law.
The Interior Ministry said: “Our recently published strategy to combat violence against women and girls establishes that there are several crimes that already capture street harassment.
“We are committed to ensuring that these laws work in practice. That is why, through new funding to address violence against women and girls, we will deepen our understanding of who commits these crimes, why they do it, and how this behavior can escalate. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism