New guidance on street-based sexual harassment

Street harassment such as cyber-flashing, up-skirting or the exposure of genitals in a public place are crimes which can and will be prosecuted the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has stressed, as new legal guidance is published today.

Aug 8, 2022
By Website Editor

The prosecution guidance on public order offences has been updated to include for the first time a specific chapter on charges relating to public sexual abuse. It follows a stark report published last year from the All-Party Parliament Group (APPG) for UN.

Women which looked at the prevalence and reporting of sexual harassment in public spaces. The report found that 71 per cent of women in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space, but the incident was not reported to police in 95 per cent of cases.

Siobhan Blake, CPS national lead for Rape and Serious Sexual Offences said: “It is sickening that seven in ten women – almost three quarters – have been subjected to this disgusting behaviour.

“It is equally concerning that so few incidents of sexual harassment in public are reported. The law is clear that if someone exposes themselves, tries to take inappropriate pictures or makes you feel threatened on the street, these are crimes and should not be dismissed.

“Everyone has the right to travel on public transport, dance at a festival or walk the streets without fear of harassment. Feeling safe should not be a luxury for women.”

The report from the APPG also showed that incidents of sexual harassment rose to 80 per cent among 18–34-year-olds with 98 per cent never being reported. More than half of the women polled said they did not think the incident was serious enough to report.

In a move to encourage more victims to come forward – and to make sure prosecutions are carried out consistently – the new chapter clarifies the law around potential offences and evidence prosecutors will need. Specific offences include:

  • Exposure: A person commits an offence if they intentionally expose their genitals and intend the person seeing them would experience alarm or distress.
  • Up-skirting: Up-skirting is taking a photograph or video under someone’s clothing without their consent and the perpetrator not reasonably believing consent had been given. It is done with the intention to humiliate, alarm or distress the victim or gain sexual gratification.
  • ‘Cyberflashing’: Categorised as a communications offence, ‘cyberflashing’ involves perpetrators sending unwanted sexual images to strangers in public places, via data sharing services such as Bluetooth or Airdrop.
  • Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986: This involves the intention to cause harassment, alarm, or distress by words or behaviour. The effect on the victim is an essential element, with prosecutors required to prove someone actually suffered harassment, alarm or distress and the defendant acted intentionally.

In developing the updated guidance, the CPS drew on insights from a Community Accountability Forum focused on street-based harassment, which explored individual’s personal experiences of harassment and how the CPS can help tackle this criminal behaviour.

Ms Blake added: “We understand why women may feel reluctant to come forward if they are victims of these upsetting and frightening incidents, but we want to send a clear message that this intimidating behaviour can be a criminal offence. The law is there to protect you and help make our streets safer. We will do all we can, working with police, to support those who come forward.”

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners joint lead for victims, Donna Jones, said the introduction of the guidance sends “a clear message that these acts and any form of harassment or violence against women and girls is never acceptable and will not be tolerated”.

She added: “This new legal guidance will help police with more of the tools they need to help bring perpetrators to justice and we hope that it will also give victims the confidence to report acts to the police.

“These crimes can lead to perpetrators committing even more serious offences therefore the introduction of this new legal guidance is vital in preventing crime and in protecting women and girls in our communities.”

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