News – Men caught wolf whistling or bothering women should be prosecuted, police told

Catcalling and wolf whistling should be prosecuted under existing laws, police have been told as part of a crackdown on the “epidemic” of sexual harassment and violence against women.

Police officers have been issued with a new “toolkit” that calls for men caught catcalling, wolf whistling, leering or persistently staring at women to be prosecuted under the Public Order Act of 1986.

Police have been told they could take action “where these behaviours are part of a course of conduct (i.e. occurred on at least two occasions” because they could constitute harassment or stalking.

Officers are also advised that they could take “preventative” measures to combat such behaviour including Asbo-style public space protection orders which dictate what people can or cannot do in prescribed public spaces, with the threat of prosecution if they breach the restrictions.

The toolkit, issued by the College of Policing, listed other offences that could be prosecuted under public order, harassment or stalking laws including sexual gestures; indecent exposure; following, persistent following, cornering or isolating; sexual propositioning or sexually explicit comments.

The public order act carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail or a fine. The move comes after Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, urged police to take harassment and flashing of women more seriously, saying verbal or physical abuse of women were not low level offences.

Deputy chief constable Maggie Blythe, the national police coordinator for violence against women and girls, urged women and girls to “come forward and report” such street harassment. “We need to be absolutely confident that police forces are using the powers they already have,” she said. 

She said the police also wanted to be part of the “dialogue” about whether to introduce a new offence of public sexual harassment, as was proposed by the Law Commission and is currently being considered by the Government.

She admitted that women’s and girls’ trust in police had been dealt a “hammer blow” and been “severely damaged” in the wake of the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by PC Wayne Couzens and officers photographing and sharing images of two women’s dead bodies.

“This year has been a watershed moment for society and policing in how much more needs to be done to radically reduce violence against women and girls,” she said. “In policing, we are determined to seize this moment to make fundamental and long-lasting change.”

Chief Constable Andy Marsh, chief executive of the College of Policing, said there was “epidemic” of “industrial” level violence and harassment against women with 1.6 million offences a year. 

“It is important for police to recognise that this is not about a few bad people. This is a system wide endemic problem that we have a responsibility to resolve,” he said.

Under a new framework unveiled by the National Police Chiefs Council today to combat it, men who pose the highest risk of violence to women and girls are to be actively targeted by police, including with electronic tagging, restraining and anti-molestation orders and home visits.

Ms Blyth said: “We want to help turn the tables so violent men feel under threat, not women and girls going about their lives. Violent men who harm women and girls should be in no doubt that we are coming after them. 

“We are going to increase the use of our unique police powers to relentlessly pursue perpetrators, manage offenders and disrupt their activities – whether in public spaces, online or behind closed doors.”

Police chiefs are also expecting to see an increase in the number of officers who turn whistleblower as they are encouraged to report each other for inappropriate sexist behaviour.

And where officers retire after being found guilty of misconduct, force bosses will be urged to strip them of their pensions.

The plans consist of three pillars – building trust, going after perpetrators and making life safer for women and girls.

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