LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women and girls in Britain suffer “relentless” and “normalized” sexual harassment in public and the government is failing to protect them, a parliamentary committee said on Tuesday.
New technology is adding to a stream of abuse, lawmakers on the Women and Equalities Committee said, calling for a law to criminalize the sending of unsolicited intimate photographs.
“Sexual harassment in public places is a regular experience for many women and girls in the street, in bars and clubs, on buses and trains, at university and online,” committee chair Maria Miller said in a statement.
“It is the most common form of violence against women and girls and the damage is far-reaching.”
The report comes amid a legal review to consider making misogyny a hate crime.
Almost a quarter of women in Britain have been sexually harassed in a public place in the last five years, according to a poll by YouGov last year.
Women face unwanted sexual comments and harassment from childhood in a culture that “normalizes” sexual misconduct, said lawmakers as they concluded a nine-month inquiry.
“The harassment ranges from whistles and ‘catcalls’ to my breasts, bottom, legs and groin being touched,” one woman told the committee.
Technology and the internet are creating new forms of abuse such as people viewing pornography on phones in public, sending unsolicited nude male photographs, taking “upskirt” images of women or publishing intimate images of former partners without their consent, it found.
The law is often “running to catch up” on these issues, it said, while the government is failing to take sufficient action to combat sexual misconduct toward women.
The government has pledged 100 million British pounds ($130 million US) to combat violence against women and girls and will update its strategy to tackle crimes that disproportionately impact women, a spokeswoman said.
The report recommended a law on “image-based sexual abuse” that would criminalize the creation or sending of intimate images without the victim’s consent.
It also called for tackling the “harms of pornography,” similar to the investment made in public anti-smoking campaigns.
Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, a women’s rights charity, said she welcomed the focus on online and technology-linked abuse.
“This is all part of a spectrum of violence against women and girls,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“It is as significant for a woman to be abused online as it is for her to be abused in the street.”
Reporting by Sonia Elks. Editing by Jason Fields. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org