Women will be urged to report street harassment that they might not be aware is a crime, as part of a national publicity campaign to be launched by the Government.
The multi-million pound campaign to target perpetrators and challenge misogynistic attitudes will tell women there are already laws under which they could report to police men who harass them in public.
Police will be told to investigate, and ministers will also consider whether a new specific offence of street harassment should be introduced to plug any legislative gaps so women are protected from verbal and sexual abuse in public.
The move, to be unveiled on Wednesday, is part of a strategy to stamp out violence against women and girls, which drew more than 180,000 responses to its consultation after the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard as she walked home in Clapham, south London.
It also includes potential curbs on universities using gagging orders to cover up sexual harassment, an overhaul of security measures on streets and the transport system, and 24/7 helplines for women to report rape, sex assaults and unsafe locations.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, said: “The safety of women and girls across the country, wherever they are, is an absolute priority for me.
“It is unacceptable that women and girls are still subject to harassment, abuse and violence, and I do not accept that violence against women and girls is inevitable.
“I am determined to give the police the powers they need to crack down on perpetrators and carry out their duties to protect the public, whilst providing victims with the care and support they deserve.”
The Crown Prosecution Service and the College of Policing will be told to draw up new guidance on how officers could use three Acts covering sexual offences, harassment and public order to prosecute perpetrators of street harassment.
The publicity campaign on TV, radio, print and social media will encourage victims to report “harassment that they might not be aware is a crime,” according to a Home Office official. This could range from explicit sexual comments to lewd propositions.
“We know from the call for evidence that women and girls may not report some forms of public sexual harassment because they do not think it is criminal behaviour, nor that it will be taken seriously by the police,” the Home Office said.
“It is important that the police enforce the law properly and give women the confidence that if they report an incident, it will be dealt with. We are looking carefully at where there may be gaps in existing law and how a specific offence for public sexual harassment could address those.”
A national police chief will be appointed to oversee the drive to protect women in public and tackle violence. Modelled on the UK’s head of counter-terrorism, the chief will report directly to the Home Secretary.
Universities that have spent £87 million on non-disclosure agreements to keep sexual misconduct and bullying allegations quiet face a review that will limit their use to gag students or lecturers.
Review of women’s safety on streets and transport
A new online tool, “StreetSafe”, will be created where women can pinpoint areas where they have felt unsafe, such as through lack of lighting or CCTV, or threats from men.
A review of women’s safety on streets and transport will be backed by £30 million funding for extra security measures and will run alongside a call for evidence by the Department for Transport on how streets could be redesigned to be made safer for women.
The Ministry of Justice will commission a 24/7 rape and sex assault helpline, while the Department for Education will draw up plans for lessons that ensure boys respect girls and understand consent.
An independent reviewer will be appointed by the Home Office to ensure registered sex offenders are being securely managed and data on them shared between police forces. The National Crime Agency will get extra cash to develop new methods for identifying serial sex offenders.
Writing in The Telegraph, Nimco Ali, the feminist author who advised the Government on the strategy, said it would also tackled “honour-based” abuse which “devastates lives and destroys families”.
“Changes are being made, including the criminalisation of virginity testing, ensuring marriages of 16 and 17-year olds can never happen, even if the parents give consent, and providing new guidance for the police on ‘honour-based’ abuse,” she said.