A woman walking along a wide urban sidwealk, seen from behind.

Wolf Whistling, Catcalling, Other Forms of Street Harassment Set To Become Illegal in the U.K.

A new bill has unanimously passed in the House of Commons to strengthen the U.K.’s existing laws against sexual harassment, expanding them to include harassment in the streets. The bill will now go to the House of Lords for its final deliberation and passing.

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According to the BBC, in addition to catcalling and wolf-whistling, criminalized offenses will also include:

  • Deliberately walking closely behind someone as they walk home at night
  • Making obscene or aggressive comments towards a person in the street
  • Making obscene or offensive gestures towards a person in the street
  • Obstructing someone’s path
  • Driving or riding a vehicle slowly near someone making a journey

If the Sex-Based Harassment in Public bill becomes law, those offenses will carry a jail sentence of up to two years. The standard claims of it was a joke or learn to take a compliment won’t fly either, as Home Secretary Suella Braverman is showing support for an amendment closing that “loophole.” Instead, violations will be subjected to a “reasonableness test”—meaning that any reasonable person “ought to know” that their behavior amounts to harassment.

The Tory MP who proposed the bill, Greg Clark, said that he wanted the bill to “reinforce change” and that was was “astonished” that there wasn’t already legislation like this passed. He said, “This closes a loophole in the law, as it has never has been a specific criminal offense to harass and intimidate intentionally a woman or a girl in public.”

“Because it is not a specific crime, too many women and girls think there is no point in reporting it to the police,” Clark continued. “This is something we don’t tolerate for racial harassment or harassment on the grounds of sexuality.”

The introduction of this bill follows a string of high-profile cases of violence against women, including Sarah Everard in March 2021, who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by Met Police officer Wayne Couzens, and Sabina Nessa who was murdered in September while on her way to her local pub to meet friends.

Braverman has also said that she supports the new laws. She told The Telegraph, “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 are supporting an amendment that will require the Government to produce statutory guidance for the police to help them enforce the new offence.”

However, this isn’t the first time that discussions about laws and bills like this one have taken place. In 2021, then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he didn’t support making misogyny a hate crime, saying that the police should “focus on the very real crimes”—as if a woman isn’t murdered by a man every three days.

Johnson told the BBC, “I think that what we should do is prosecute people for crimes that we have on the statute book. I think, to be perfectly frank, if you simply widen the scope of what you ask the police to do you’ll just increase the problem.

“What you need to do is get the police to focus on the very real crimes, the very real feeling of injustice and betrayal that many people feel.”

Legislation of this kind was being propelled by then-Home Secretary Priti Patel who wrote in The Times, “We will continue to look at gaps in existing law and how an offence for sexual harassment could address those … I am committed to ensuring not only that the laws are there, but that they work in practice and women and girls are confident their concerns will be taken seriously.”

She continued, “It is important that the police enforce the law and give women the confidence that if they report an incident, it will be dealt with.”

(featured image: Photo by Samantha Hurley from Burst)

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Brooke Pollock
Brooke Pollock is a UK-based entertainment journalist who talks incessantly about her thoughts on pop culture. She can often be found with her headphones on listening to an array of music, scrolling through social media, at the cinema with a large popcorn, or laying in bed as she binges the latest TV releases. She has almost a year of experience and her core beat is digital culture.