Public Sexual Harassment: Legislation

Women and Equalities – in the House of Commons on 24th November 2021.

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Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Public sexual harassment is appalling, and we are committed to tackling it. As set out in the tackling violence against women and girls strategy, we are looking carefully at where there may be gaps in existing laws and how a specific offence could address those, while also engaging closely with campaigners.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities)

Some 66% of young women and girls experience public sexual harassment, which has a huge impact on their confidence, their self-esteem and their mental health. It makes them feel unsafe and uncomfortable wearing, doing or saying things in public spaces. Therefore, we should make public sexual harassment a specific criminal offence. Will the Minister meet me and campaigners who want to see that happen, and look at a way forward on this serious issue?

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I can assure the hon. Lady that we are taking the views of campaigners on board, and I and other Ministers meet with them regularly. As I have said, we are looking at whether there may be some specific legislative gaps, but it will always be a pleasure for me to meet her.

Photo of Jamie Wallis Jamie Wallis Conservative, Bridgend

I thank the Minister for her response, but what specific discussions has she had on the recent increase in spikings that has unfortunately affected women and girls in south Wales?

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue on behalf of young women and girls in his constituency. Drink spiking and needle spiking are horrific and frightening offences, and we are taking steps, led by the Home Secretary herself, working with Maggie Blyth, the chief of police leading the response to violence against women and girls across police forces, to ramp up our response and tackle them effectively.

Photo of Taiwo Owatemi Taiwo Owatemi Labour, Coventry North West

The Minister says that spiking is frightening, but it is actually assault and often leads to further violence. The Government must look urgently at improving forensic provision in healthcare so that we can identify the perpetrators and boost public awareness of the risk of that horrific crime. How will she work with the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care to tackle the threats of spiking?

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the prevalence of spiking, which is why the Home Secretary is leading on action, via the Home Office and with other Government colleagues across the board, to ensure that we have an effective response. I draw the attention of Taiwo Owatemi to the specific funding that the Home Office has put into the safety of women at night fund, which provides drink spiking detection kits and specific training for security staff so that women and young girls going out at night into the night-time economy can feel safe to have a good time, as we all want them to.