Written evidence from Plan International UK Response
10th June 2022
About Plan International UK
Plan International UK is a global children’s organisation working to advance children’s rights and equality for girls. We work to give every child the same chance in life. But when you’re a girl it’s even harder to be safe, to be in school and to be in charge of your body. Wherever in the world a girl is born or lives, she should be safe, free from abuse and have equal rights – and this includes in the UK. In 2016, we turned our attention to girls’ rights in the UK and have since worked to advance a range of their rights through programmes, research, campaigns and advocacy.
In 2020, Plan International UK and grassroots youth movement, Our Streets Now, launched the #CrimeNotCompliment campaign to make public sexual harassment (PSH) a criminal offence in England and Wales. Through engaging with young women and girls in our research, UK programmes and Youth Advisory Panel we have developed a strong evidence base, expertise and understanding of the drivers, prevalence and impact of PSH on girls’2 lives, including their experience of the justice system.
Our recent report, What Works for Ending Public Sexual Harassment1’ provides further evidence of the multiple ways in which PSH harms girls’ lives and the interventions that are effective to address this pervasive problem.
We welcome the opportunity to respond to this call for evidence in order to ensure that the Bill, as drafted, will truly deliver a cultural shift in victims’ experiences of the justice system.
In this submission, we outline our views on the Bill’s definition of victim, and whether there should be any further measures included in the Bill, as outlined in the terms of reference. We also comment on implementation, resourcing and accountability challenges and commissioning support services.
The Bill’s definition of victim
The Bill defines a victim as a person who has suffered harm as a result of being subjected to or witnessing criminal conduct. Criminal conduct is defined as conduct that could be prosecuted under criminal law.
We are concerned that this definition of victim means that many of the 75% of girls and young women who report experiencing some form of PSH in their lifetime, will not count as victims, and precludes them from support when they report an incident. This is because criminal law to prosecute PSH is not fit for purpose: it is piecemeal and disjointed and means that many sexually harmful behaviours in public fall through the legal cracks. In our research, of the girls who had ever reported an incident of PSH to the police:
Our legal briefing highlights the gaps in the law in more detail.
We welcome the definition of harm (subsection 2). Based on our research, we know that PSH can have a profound and long-lasting impact on girls’ physical and mental health as well as mobility and participation in public spaces.
We also welcome subsection 4: that a person can be a victim of criminal conduct irrespective of whether or not an offender is charged or convicted.
Subsection 4 is essential given prosecution rates for VAWG remain low, including for PSH. We strongly support the intent of this subsection to ensure that victims have access to support services at all stages of criminal justice processes even when no criminal proceeding can be brought or if there is a non-guilty verdict.
Further measures to be included in the Bill
Given that many forms of PSH cannot be prosecuted under criminal law, we strongly recommend that the Justice Select Committee consider widening the measures included in this Bill to introduce new legislation that would criminalise all forms of PSH.
A new law on PSH would mean that the many girls and young women who experience PSH would count as victims under the current definition used in the Bill.
A new, comprehensive law on PSH would also update and clarify the law for the police, prosecutors, the judiciary and members of the public, including those who experience it. It would have:
We have worked with leading barristers to develop a draft bill which draws from best practice around the world and fits with the UK’s unique context. It includes the critical sexual element of these types of unwanted and harmful behaviours; it includes the mental element (whether someone intentionally or recklessly commits PSH); covers all forms of PSH; and has a proportionate punishment from a fine to 12 months’ imprisonment, at the judge’s discretion. We would be happy to share our draft bill with the Committee and welcome opportunities to discuss its inclusion within the Victims Bill.
Implementation, resourcing and accountability challenges
As above, without changes to the law on PSH, it makes it very difficult to know whether victims of PSH are getting access to justice and whether improvements are being made to girls’ and young women’s experience of the justice system when they report, including whether they feel listened to and taken seriously, and whether perpetrators are brought to justice.
Whether legislative steps proposed by the Government will lead to an improvement in the commissioning of support services
We welcome the commitment to improve the commissioning of support services for victims. We are not able to comment on whether the legislative steps proposed will lead to commissioning improvements but would like to reiterate that support services must meet the distinct support needs of children and girls and investment must be made to specialist support for marginalised groups, including ‘by and for’ services for Black and minoritised women and girls.
For further information about this submission please contact our Public Affairs Officer, Ngaire Reynolds.
 PIUK (2021) What Works for ending Public Sexual Harassment. Available online: download (plan-uk.org) 75% of girls aged 12-21 reported they had experience PSH in their lifetime. UN Women also found that 86% of 18-24-year-olds have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public places: https://www.unwomenuk.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/APPG-UN-Women-Sexual-Harassment-Report_Updated.pdf
 PIUK and OSN (2020) Ending Public Sexual Harassment: Legal Briefing. Available online: download (plan-uk.org)
 PIUK (2021) What Works for ending Public Sexual Harassment. PIUK.