Should there be a law against sexual harassment, and is it a hate crime?

It started with Harvey Weinstein, one of the biggest names in cinema, then went global with the #metoo Twitter hashtag before engulfing the UK’s members of Parliament.

The sex scandal spanning Hollywood, Parliament and beyond has exposed a possible gap in UK legislation – sexual harassment is not actually a criminal offence in its own right.

The Equality Act currently covers sexual harassment in the workplace, and is defined as being harassment if the behaviour is either meant to or has the effect of:

  • violating your dignity, or
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environmentIt also makes it near impossible to get an accurate picture of the scale of the problem.

Outside work, prosecutors must use different pieces of legislation, depending on the nature of the offence.

Critics say this leaves us without a proper definition of the types of behaviour that amount to sexual harassment – or clear boundaries.

Is sexual harassment of a woman a hate crime?

No – not in most places.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, hate crimes fall into five categories – disability, race, religion, transgender identity and sexual orientation.

However, police forces can create their own categories, depending on local concerns and problems.

Revenge pornography is one example.

Until 2015, there was no specific law against the offence, which often involves an ex-partner uploading sexual images of someone to humiliate and embarrass them.

Instead, convictions were sought under existing copyright or harassment laws.

Within a year of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 coming into force, 206 people in England and Wales had been prosecuted for disclosing private sexual images.

So, is it time to make sexual harassment a specific criminal offence?

Have your say on our Twitter poll @L6_News.

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