A report by the women and equalities select committee found evidence that harassment is “deeply ingrained” in British culture and affects the lives of women everywhere, but said the government’s “foot appears to be almost entirely off the pedal” when it came to tackling the issue.
Maria Miller, who chairs the committee, said: “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.
“It is the most common form of violence against women and girls and the damage is far-reaching. And yet most of it goes unreported.
“The #MeToo movement shows that we must confront some deeply uncomfortable truths about our society and the attitudes some men hold.”
The committee warned that ministers risk giving the impression that the issue is “too trivial to address” – and said it was “astonishing” that the problem of sexual harassment was “almost entirely absent” from the government’s strategy for tackling violence.
Although the government has committed to eliminating sexual harassment against women and girls by 2030, the committee claimed there was no evidence of any drive to achieve this.
In its report, the group of MPs called for new measures to be put in place, including:
:: Long-term publicity campaigns to tackle attitudes that underpin sexual harassment
:: A new offence to criminalise the creation of non-consensual sexual images
:: Investment in research and action to address the harm caused by pornography
:: New regulations covering to tackle sexual harassment on trains, as well as action to block the use of mobile devices to view pornography on public transport
:: Changes to licensing laws to require bars and clubs to take action to prevent harassment, and new legal obligations on universities to outlaw it.
Tamaryn Payne says she has been a victim of sexual harassment since she was a teenager.
She added: “[It is] a daily occurrence for me. Stares, the odd remark and a recent serious incident made me call the police after a man followed me along the road and wouldn’t leave me alone.”
Ms Payne says she is “really exhausted” by the repeated incidents, and has even moved areas to stop it from happening.
In response to the committee’s nine-month inquiry, a government spokesperson said: “Unwelcome advances that intimidate, degrade or humiliate women and girls are an abuse of power and unlawful. Whether in the home, the workplace or in public, sexual harassment is unacceptable.
“The government has made protecting women and girls from all forms of violence, and supporting victims and survivors a key priority.
“To support the government’s commitment to tackling violence against women and girls, we have pledged £100m in funding until 2020 and will be updating our Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy to ensure that we are doing all that we can to tackle crimes which disproportionately impact on women.”