Taking Back Public Spaces: Tackling Sexual Harassment in the Wake of #MeToo

With government shortcomings now starkly highlighted by the Women’s and Equality Committee, RISE Mutual’s Consider course fills a clear void in confronting perpetrators of sexual harassment.

A systemic problem

Despite only recently seeing the spotlight, sexual harassment has long been a controversial issue. New movements, from #MeTooto Report it to Stop ithave ignited the subject, shedding light on how systemic this problem remains within society. Yet, there is still a visible lack of preventative courses which aim to tackle perpetrators, an area key to the eradication of sexual harassment from our public spaces.

Numerous surveys have highlighted the endemic nature of the problem. The Office of National Statistics states that the number of sexual offences recorded by March 2017 had increased 14% upon the previous year, putting the number at the highest level since records began1. A similar YouGov poll uncovered that over half (52%) of 18-24 year old women say they have been subjected to sexual harassment in a public place in the last five years. Ranging from the street (64%), public transport (30%), and even in the workplace (25%), sexual harassment seems to pervade our society. 

Sexual harassment rooted in British culture

These statistics become all the more shocking after the release of the Women’s and Equality Committee’s nine-month long report, finding that the government’s ‘foot appears to be almost entirely off the pedal’. Framing sexual harassment as ‘ingrained’ in British culture, the report states that the ‘prevention of sexual harassment should be the government’s aim’, but also that ‘there is no evidence of any programme’ in which the government will reach its 2030 goal to eliminate sexual harassment2.This emphasises the primary role non-governmental organisations must now fill in providing key courses to stem this tide of sexual harassment, if we are to tackle the issue effectively.

Early Interventions – the Consider course

Accordingly, RISE Mutual’s Consider course, an out of court disposal delivered with West Midlands and Avon & Somerset police, is relevant now more than ever.

The course attempts to tackle low-level perpetrators, with the objective of averting further, more serious, offences. Dealing with, among others, perpetrators of indecent exposure, inappropriate sexual conversations, and unwanted touching or groping, the course aligns with national trends. YouGov found that the most widespread form of sexual harassment – inappropriate sexual comments – was experienced by 58% of 18-24 year olds, alongside 38% of whom experienced inappropriate sexual touching3.

Focusing on motivational interviewing techniques, the course aims to not only raise awareness and help manage inappropriate sexual behaviour, but to instil an awareness of the effects on victims. One service user recounted that the course ‘significantly reduced the odds of my life going downhill rapidly’, and that ‘it opened my eyes to the consequences of my actions and other scenarios that were talked about’, stating‘a short sharp shock is sometimes all it takes for some.’ This echoes the comments of Elaine Knibbs, a leader of the Considercourse, who highlights ‘how imperative it is that we tackle offending behaviour early on, through courses such as Consider’. Elaine emphasises the idea that ‘depending on the recipient, an act or interaction can be interpreted differently – it is this focus on the victim Consider stresses to offenders.’ Therefore, the attention on confronting and improving perpetrator behaviour attempts to fill the visible lack in corrective courses surrounding sexual harassment.

An important shift to eradicate sexual harassment

RISE Mutual’s efforts are part of a broader shift aimed at confronting this harassment. The British Transport Police’s Report it to Stop it campaign works to identify offenders of ‘unwanted sexual behaviour’ on public transport. Hariotte recounts how a 55-year-old man was sentenced for groping her in Newcastle Train Station, while Sarah, who reports being the victim of unwanted sexual contact on a DLR carriage in London, saw her perpetrator receive fourteen months in prison. In encouraging victims to report ‘anything that makes you feel uncomfortable’, the campaign aims to collate sexual offences to increase perpetrator identification, laying the foundation for which courses such as Considercan then aim to tackle perpetrator behaviour and prevent further offence4.

Chair of the Women’s and Equality Committee Maria Miller has made clear that sexual harassment in public places is ‘the most common form of violence against women and girls’ and that ‘the damage is far-reaching.’5 The plea of the report for ‘opportunities to embed a preventative approach’ clearly demonstrates the deficiency of government action in tackling this issue, and highlights the importance of courses such as Consider in aiming to prevent what is already a rampant social issue from escalating.

Therefore, more courses like Consider, with a focus on educating perpetrators to prevent further, more severe, offending, are clearly needed. Only then will we be able to ensure our public spaces are safe, and that we are on the path toward eradicating sexual harassment from its commonplace position in society.

1. Sexual offences in England and Wales
2. Public sexual harassment women girls UK government policies parks streets women equalities committee
3. Most 18-24 year old women have been sexually haras
4. Rape and sexual assault – convictions
5. Public sexual harassment women girls UK government policies parks streets women equalities committee

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