Stronger measures are needed to tackle the sending of unsolicited sexual images and viewing of pornography in public, a group of MPs has said.
In a report after a nine-month inquiry, the #women and equalities select committee called for a new law to criminalise all non-consensual creation and distribution of sexual images “on the basis of the victim’s lack of consent rather than perpetrator motivation”.
The MPs noted that as technology leads to new forms of sexual harassment – such as upskirting and the sending of non-consensual images – the law is often running to catch up and ministers tend to react to problems as they hit the headlines.
“Laws on image-based sexual abuse are not based on an understanding of power and entitlement … they focus too narrowly on the perpetrator motivations and do not provide the protection of anonymity of complainants,” the report says.
A YouGov poll this year found that 41% of young women had received unsolicited sexual images, of whom 23% said they found it distressing and 17% threatening. Almost half (46%) of millennial women who had received such images were younger than 18 when it first happened.
The committee’s chair, Maria Miller, said: “Sexual harassment in public places is a regular experience for many women and girls – in the street, in bars and clubs, on buses and trains, at university and online. It is the most common form of violence against women and girls and the damage is far-reaching. And yet most of it goes unreported.”
She said women felt the onus was put on them to avoid risky situations, which she said was unacceptable. “It has a wider effect on society, contributing to a culture in which sexual violence can be normalised or excused. All of this keeps women and girls unequal.”