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Inquiry into sexual harassment in public spaces

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sexual harassment, public spaces, select committee, inquiryA problem that seems so routine in women’s lives, and yet has received very little attention in public policy.

The Women and Equalities Committee is currently holding an inquiry into sexual harassment of women and girls in public places.

Following the emergence of widespread allegations in the UK and US about sexual assault and harassment across a wide range of sectors, the Committee held a one-off evidence session on women’s experiences of everyday sexism and sexual harassment in December 2017.

MPs now want to focus on women and girls’ experiences of sexual harassment in public places: on the street, on public transport, in shopping areas, in bars and clubs and in other public areas.

Sexual harassment has different definitions, but in the Equality Act 2010 it is defined as “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”.

A national survey published by YouGov in 2016 revealed that 85 per cent of women aged 18–24 had experienced unwanted sexual attention in public places and 45 per cent have experienced unwanted sexual touching.

And reports of sexual offences on trains have more than doubled in the past five years; 1,448 offences were reported in 2016-17, up from 650 in 2012-2013.

The Committee wants to understand why sexual harassment happens in public places, what effect it has on women and girls, and how to prevent it and how to support victims, and is asking for written submissions that address some or all of the questions below.

The scale and impact of sexual harassment of women and girls in public places:

How widespread is sexual harassment of women and girls in public places and what form does it take? Do we know whether this has increased or decreased over time?

Who are the perpetrators and the victims, and how does it happen?

What is the impact of sexual harassment on the lives of women and girls? Are there other effects, such as on bystanders, or on society in general?

What gaps exist in the evidence about sexual harassment in public places?

It is also asking why sexual harassment of women and girls in public places happens.

What are the factors (including social and cultural factors) that lead to sexual harassment of women and girls in public places?

How do men and boys learn what is acceptable behaviour?

What evidence is there of links between harmful attitudes that men and boys have towards women and girls and sexual harassment?

What evidence, if any, is there of links between harmful attitudes and other behaviours such as paying for sex or using pornography?

How can negative attitudes and behaviours be changed?

And it asks about preventing and responding to sexual harassment of women and girls in public places.

How should the government tackle sexual harassment in public places?

What are the police, local authorities or other bodies doing to tackle sexual harassment in public places? Who else has a role?

Are more or different laws needed? Or do existing laws need to be better understood or enforced?

What interventions are available, or should be available, for perpetrators and potential perpetrators?

Is current support adequate for victims of sexual harassment in public places?

Are there good practice examples or innovative thinking about tackling sexual harassment in the public realm either in the UK or internationally?

The Committee is not focusing on workplaces in this inquiry, although it understands that there are connections between the experiences of women and girls in different areas of life.

And the Committee is interested in how age, ethnicity, sexuality and other characteristics affect women’s experiences.

The Committee’s chair, Maria Miller MP, said: “We know that there is huge public concern about sexual harassment, particularly of women and girls, which is why we held an evidence session in December to look at women’s experiences of harassment in different places and how these experiences are linked.

“We know that sexual harassment can be experienced by anyone, but the evidence shows that it is overwhelmingly a problem that is perpetrated by men and boys against women and girls and forms part of the wider inequalities that women and girls experience – which is why we are focusing on this.

“Women and girls are harassed on buses, trains, in the street and in bars and clubs.

“We are putting a spotlight on a problem that seems to be so routine in women’s lives, and yet has received very little attention in public policy.

“We want to find out why it happens, what the government is doing to root it out, and what more can be done.”

Detailed guidance for giving evidence to a Select Committee of the House of Commons has been prepared and can be downloaded here.

This page summarises how to make a submission, and what happens when you do.

The deadline for written submissions to this inquiry is 5 March 2018.

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