An amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that would criminalise kerb crawling was blocked by MPs in a vote this week. Three women talk to Stylist about what it’s like to experience street harassment.
This week MPs voted to approve the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which did not include new legislation to tackle street harassment, as many women had hoped.
The bill, which passed with 365 votes to 265, is made up of a raft of controversial new laws which will make it more difficult to protest and give police and the state more powers.
While many of those powers have been criticised for removing civil liberties and even encroaching on people’s human rights, campaigners had hoped the bill would also tackle street harassment.
On 5 July, Labour MP Harriet Harman put forward an amendment to include criminalising kerb crawling, a form of harassment from a slow moving car or van, usually from men encouraging women or girls to get in the vehicle, which she described as “absolutely frightening”.
The amendment, which was not approved by MPs, would have allowed courts to issue fines and confiscate the driving licence of anyone found guilty of harassing someone from a car.
Kerb crawling of sex workers is already banned under the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, but the law does not currently protect all women and girls from this common type of harassment.
Charlotte Buckley, who works in PR and suffered kerb crawling as a student living in Leeds, says a ban would have been “great”. Charlotte was followed home from work by some men in a car on a winter evening and was left traumatised by the experience.
She says: “I think they started with the classic wolf whistling, asking for my number, asking if they could take me out, asking if I had a boyfriend. I just tried to laugh it off and ignore it. I remember even making up that I had a boyfriend to hopefully ward them off so that they would lose interest and leave me alone.”
“Then it turned into them asking why I was alone, why I was ignoring them, and at that point I tried to stand up for myself and told them that what they were doing wasn’t funny and they shouldn’t be approaching a female like this in the dark on her own and trying to intimidate her. At this point instead of driving off they thought it would be funny to swerve in front of me so I couldn’t get past them on the main road.
After that situation I made sure I rang someone every time I was walking on my own, but even years later I’m always looking over my shoulder and being super mindful of those situations, because you just don’t know what people are going to do and how ugly things could become.”
Hollie Adler, 24, who works as a sound engineer in Manchester, had a similar experience three years ago. She had been to a party and was coming home about 9am on a Sunday when a man pulled up alongside her.
She says: “I’d stopped to take my shoes off because they were really hurting. He pulled up his car and leaned out of the window and asked, ‘How much?’ I just ignored him and walked off.
I think he realised that I wasn’t a sex worker then but he carried on following me, asking me to get in the car, calling me a ‘teen slut’ and saying he wanted to tie me up and choke me. To be honest, I can’t remember the worst stuff because the experience was just a blur.
It must have only gone on for a minute or so, but it felt like much longer. My heart was pounding. It was the first time I’d experienced something like that. It sounds ridiculous but when I got home, my hands were shaking. I couldn’t get the key in the lock.”
Hollie says she didn’t report it because she wasn’t sure if a crime had been committed. “I spent so long afterwards trying to work out why it had happened. I was wearing a long blonde wig, which I threw away afterwards. I felt kind of disgusted with myself – like the outfit I wore that made me feel so confident the night before had made me a target and made me feel really vulnerable,” she says.
But street harassment is caused by a perpetrator, not what a woman is wearing.
Like many women, Jennifer Hakim, a company director, first suffered kerb crawling as a child.
She says: “I think I was around 14, walking to school and there was this car driving really slow right next to me, close to the pavement.” The man was trying to encourage her into the car, “nicely but persistently”.
“I remembered being fully aware of the situation and at the same time downplaying it and laughing it off as I was going to school and had a whole day to focus on – but I still remember it very vividly 20 years later.”
She says she was “annoyed” rather than scared at the time but she sees it differently now as an adult. “It’s more looking back on it now that I realise how scary these situations actually were. It’s pretty clear that I learned to block it out early on and just normalise it, sadly.”
“Now I just think about my niece and future kids and dread the day they will have to walk to school alone because I don’t want that to happen to them,” she adds.