2 out of 3 girls in the UK have been sexually harassed in public. Being followed down the street, whistled at, or having sexual comments being shouted at them are unwanted but common experiences for far too many. Too many girls and young women feel unsafe walking home at night, jogging, or even just walking home from school.
At the time when I joined the project, the existing legislation was a mess. There was no specific law against street harassment, although it could fall under the umbrella of other criminal offences. One of the objections some people had to introducing legislation against Public Sexual Harassment was that some of the proposed offences — wolf-whistling, for example — seemed too trivial. But in the UK we fine and prosecute people for a lot less. And once you hear that it's illegal to spit out chewing gum or cycle on the pavement but not to shout sexual comments at underage girls, corner them on the street or follow them home — you really, really can't unhear it. This legal lopsidedness became our way in.
Our goal was to change the law on public sexual harassment by pointing out this legal asymmetry to the public, the MPs and the government, and explaning why new legislation was necessary.
In September 2023, a new Act came into force, amending the Public Order Act 1986 to create a new offence of intentional harassment, alarm or distress on account of sex.
Conservative Greg Clark, who put forward the bill, said it was "astonishing" that public sexual harassment was not already a crime.
We know, Greg. We know.
Agency: Unfold Stories
Strategy: Olga Pope with Jessica Lea and Marisol Grandon
Creative Direction: Marco Ammannati and Olga Pope
Illustration and Animation: Marco Ammannati