Street harassment

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Offences that may cover different forms of street harassment and preventative strategies for each behaviour

First published
Written by College of Policing

Catcalling and wolf whistling

Relevant offences that may cover the behaviour (dependent on the circumstances of the case)

Preventative strategies

Exposure

Relevant offences that may cover the behaviour (dependent on the circumstances of the case)

  • Sexual Offences Act 2003, s 66
  • A person commits an offence if he both:
    • intentionally exposes his genitals
    • intends that someone will see them and be caused alarm or distress

Preventative strategies

Following, persistent following, cornering, isolating

Relevant offences that may cover the behaviour (dependent on the circumstances of the case)

  • Public Order Act 1986, s 4A (intentional harassment, alarm or distress).
  • Public Order Act 1986, s 5 (harassment, alarm or distress).
  • Criminal Justice Act 1988, s 39 (common assault).
  • Where these behaviours are part of a course of conduct (ie, occurred on at least two occasions), this could be considered stalking or harassment. Charging under Protection from Harassment Act 1997, s 2/4 and s 2A/4A may be more appropriate, as opposed to a single-incident Public Order Act 1986 offence. In a domestic setting, this could also be considered to be coercive and controlling behaviour (see below for advice).
  • Where a court is dealing with an offender for an offence, it may make a restraining order for the purpose of protecting the victim, or victims, of the offence – or any other person mentioned in the order – from conduct that amounts to harassment or will cause a fear of violence.
  • Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, a court can impose a restraining order where the defendant is acquitted for an offence, if it considers it necessary to do so to protect a person from harassment from the defendant.

Preventative strategies

See also:

Kerb crawling

Relevant offences that may cover the behaviour (dependent on the circumstances of the case)

  • Under Section 51A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (as amended by Section 19 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009), it is an offence for a person in a street (including in a vehicle) or public place to solicit another for the purpose of obtaining a sexual service. This replaces the offences of kerb crawling and persistent soliciting under Sections 1 and 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 1985. The amendment removes the requirement to prove persistence. This enables an offender to be prosecuted on the first occasion they are found to be soliciting, without the need to prove persistent behaviour, or that the behaviour was likely to cause annoyance or nuisance to others. 

Preventative strategies

See also:

Kerb crawling (non-prostitution-based)

Relevant offences that may cover the behaviour (dependent on the circumstances of the case)

Preventative strategies

See also:

Leering or persistent staring

Relevant offences that may cover the behaviour (dependent on the circumstances of the case)

Preventative strategies

See also:

Physical assault that has a sexual or gender-based element

Relevant offences that may cover the behaviour (dependent on the circumstances of the case)

  • Physical assault – common assault (common law, section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988).
  • Women and girls might be viewed as vulnerable in particular circumstances. Where this is the case, the prosecution papers should make this clear to enable enhanced sentencing, under Sentencing Council rules.

Preventative strategies

Sexual assault

Relevant offences that may cover the behaviour (dependent on the circumstances of the case)

Preventative strategies

Sexual gestures

Relevant offences that may cover the behaviour (dependent on the circumstances of the case)

  • Outraging public decency (common law).
  • Public nuisance (common law – to be made statutory by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill).
  • Public Order Act 1986, s 4A (intentional harassment, alarm or distress).

Preventative strategies

Sexual propositioning, sexually explicit comments, intrusive persistent questioning

Relevant offences that may cover the behaviour (dependent on the circumstances of the case)

Preventative strategies

Sexual touching

Relevant offences that may cover the behaviour (dependent on the circumstances of the case)

  • Criminal offence of sexual assault under Sexual Offences Act 2003, s 3.
  • A person (‘A’) commits an offence if:
    • he intentionally touches another person (‘B’)
    • the touching is sexual
    • B does not consent to the touching
    • A does not reasonably believe that B consents

Preventative strategies

See also:

Upskirting

Relevant offences that may cover the behaviour (dependent on the circumstances of the case)

  • Upskirting is the act of operating equipment or recording an image from underneath a person’s clothing without their consent or reasonable belief in their consent. This can occur anywhere – for example, on public transport, on escalators or stairs, at schools and public events – and victims can experience significant and enduring emotional distress.
  • It is an offence under section 67A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to operate equipment or record an image under another person’s clothing (without their consent or a reasonable belief of their consent) with the intention of observing or looking at, or enabling another person to observe or look at, their genitals or buttocks (whether exposed or covered with underwear), or the underwear covering the genitals or buttocks, where the purpose is to obtain sexual gratification or to cause humiliation, distress or alarm.
  • Alternatively, consider assault, Public Order Act 1986 offences, and stalking or harassment.

Preventative strategies

For further advice, see:

Viewing pornography in public

Relevant offences that may cover the behaviour (dependent on the circumstances of the case)

  • Viewing pornography in public could fall under outraging public decency laws if more than one person is affected.
  • If viewed in the presence of children, it could also come under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
  • In certain circumstances it could also count as a public order offence, for example:

Preventative strategies

Voyeurism

Relevant offences that may cover the behaviour (dependent on the circumstances of the case)

Under Sexual Offences Act 2003, s 67, a person (‘A’) commits an offence if:

  • for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification, he observes another person doing a private act, and he knows that the other person does not consent to being observed for his sexual gratification
  • he operates equipment with the intention of enabling another person to observe, for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification, a third person (B) doing a private act, and he knows that B does not consent to his operating equipment with that intention
  • he records another person (B) doing a private act, he does so with the intention that he or a third person will, for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification, look at an image of B doing the act, and he knows that B does not consent to his recording the act with that intention
  • he installs equipment, or constructs or adapts a structure or part of a structure, with the intention of enabling himself or another person to commit an offence

Preventative strategies

See also:

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