Public sexual harassment to be investigated by MPs

Image source, Getty Images

Sexual harassment of women and girls in public spaces, such as schools and workplaces, is to face further scrutiny, under an inquiry by MPs.

The Women and Equalities committee's investigation follows widespread allegations in the UK and the US.

It will shine a spotlight "on a problem that seems to be so routine in women's lives", yet often absent in public policy, chair Maria Miller said.

She said she hoped to identify steps government could take to tackle it.

A YouGov survey published last year, revealed 85% of women aged 18-24 had experienced unwanted sexual attention in public places and 45% have experienced unwanted sexual touching.

Reported sexual offences on trains have more than doubled in the past five years.

Women and girls are also harassed, groped or assaulted on buses, in the street and in bars and clubs, Mrs Miller said, adding that she hoped to find out why it happens, whether the problem is getting worse and what more can be done.

"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," she continued.

The inquiry follows a report from the committee about sexual harassment in English schools, which led to the government making relationships and sex education compulsory and publishing guidance for schools on how to tackle sexual violence.

The committee is interested in how age, ethnicity, sexuality and other characteristics affect women's experiences.

It is accepting written submissions online from a range of sources such as representatives of victims, academics and employment lawyers until 5 March.

A spokeswoman said they are not gathering individual experiences at this stage.

Members of the committee will decide who will be invited to give oral evidence.

Media caption,
Women are speaking out about sexual harassment through one photographer's powerful project

Welcoming the inquiry, a government spokesperson said it takes "any form of sexual harassment very seriously".

"No woman should have to tolerate discrimination or harassment of any sort because of her gender," the spokesperson said.

"We have come a long way already, effectively bringing perpetrators to justice, but will continue to work until the problem is eliminated completely.

"We are taking steps to raise more awareness around gender equality issues and address harmful behaviours."