Scotland Street Harassment Law

June 27, 2008

According to the TimesOnline:

“Building-site workers who wolf-whistle and shout obscene remarks at passing females risk being placed on the sex offenders register under new laws.

The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill will create a new offence of ‘communicating indecently’, punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

The legislation is intended to punish sexual harassment by text, e-mails and letters, but ministers also aim to include sexually explicit comments to strangers.

It is expected that the law would only apply to persistent offenders.

At the moment, workmen who repeatedly make obscene comments to passers-by can be convicted of a breach of the peace.

Under the new law, if a woman has been verbally harassed on more than one occasion by a workman despite making her displeasure known, a procurator fiscal could pursue a charge of communicating indecently against the perpetrator. Those convicted would automatically be placed on the sex offenders register.”

It’s great that Scotland is recognizing the seriousness of street harassment by legislating against it! The downside of this law (and any other law I’ve seen relating to street harassment) is the unrealistic aspect. I wonder how often will the street harassment be exactly this kind of scenario? How frequently will the person being harassed be able to identify the harasser and prove that he has harassed her multiple times after she has stated her displeasure with it? Maybe things are different in Scotland but my experiences with street harassment have never been like that. They’ve all been one time deals by men I don’t know and would probably have a hard time ever finding again or identifying, especially when I’m harassed by guys in passing vehicles.

While I applaud Scotland for indicating street harassment is socially unacceptable through this legislation, I still think that a multi-layered approach (including legal recourse when applicable) is necessary in trying to end street harassment.

For anyone interested in laws and street harassment, may I recommend a few resources:

  1. Cynthia Grant Bowman’s article “Street Harassment and the Informal Ghettoization of Women
  2. Tiffanie Heben’s article “A Radical Reshaping of the Law: Interpreting and Remedying Street Harassment”
  3. Laura Beth Nielsen’s book License to Harass: Law, Hierarchy, and Offensive Public Speech
  4. Massachusetts School of Law discussion about street harassment and the law (25 minute video)