January 23, 2018 / 1:44 PM / 9 months ago

UK needs tough laws to tackle 'endemic' violence against women - experts

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Violence against women and girls is “endemic” in Britain and the legal system needs a major overhaul in order to protect them, experts said on Tuesday.

A report by the Fawcett Society, a leading women’s rights charity, called for misogyny to be made a hate crime and urged tougher laws around sexual harassment, domestic violence, equal pay and employment rights.

It also called for “up-skirting” - taking photos surreptitiously up women’s skirts - to be made an offense.

The charity commissioned a review of sex discrimination laws amid concerns that protections enshrined in European Union law could be eroded or weakened when Britain leaves the bloc.

Retired High Court judge Laura Cox, who led the review, said they had received “deeply disturbing” evidence of increasing levels of violence, abuse and harassment against women.

The report found half of women had suffered sexual harassment at work and nearly two-thirds in a public place. One in five had experienced sexual assault.

It highlighted evidence of a blame culture with 38 percent of men saying a woman was totally or partially to blame if she was assaulted after going out at night in a short skirt and getting drunk. A third of women agreed.

The report also called for a review on the admissibility of evidence on a victim’s sexual history in rape trials.

“What we see is a deeply misogynistic culture where harassment and abuse are endemic and normalized coupled with a legal system that lets women down because in many cases it doesn’t provide access to justice,” Fawcett Society chief executive Sam Smethers said in a statement.

The report also said progress on closing the pay gap had stalled and a lack of transparency prevented women from challenging unequal pay.

The issue was highlighted this month when the BBC’s China correspondent Carrie Gracie quit after revealing that she was earning far less than senior male colleagues.

The experts also recommended extending protection from pregnancy discrimination to six months after maternity leave ends, saying many pregnant women and working mothers were being pressured into leaving their jobs. 

Lawmaker Maria Miller, who chairs parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee, said the report showed there was still “significant work to be done” on pay, family-friendly working rights and sexual harassment.

She called for “a revolution in the workplace” to ensure fairness for women, men and their families.

The committee recently launched an inquiry into sexual harassment in public places.

Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.

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