Why home secretary Priti Patel is finally talking about sexual harassment

People holding placards at a protest over women's safety and harassment. Credit: PA

This year, violence against women and girls in the UK has been under the spotlight like never before.

Sometimes it's been for good reasons, like the Domestic Abuse Act finally becoming law, bringing greater support and protection for those whose lives are shattered by violence at home. But mostly we talked a lot more about feeling unsafe because of the shocking events that finally made politicians sit up and listen.

The killing of women like Sarah Everard, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry.

The everyday stories - now more than 50,000 and counting - from mostly women and girls who told the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website about the abuse they’ve endured.

The chief inspector of Ofsted revealing that sexual harassment in schools is now so common most children don’t even bother to report it.

So, when the government released its strategy to tackle violence against women and girls on Wednesday, it was clear its belatedly become more of a government priority.

Home Secretary Priti Patel Credit: PA

Taking the lead at last, the home secretary, rather than the junior ministers normally rolled out.

Priti Patel says she will ensure "women and girls are safe everywhere - at home, online and on the streets".

That is quite some promise and reflects the unprecedented response to the governments’ call for evidence. After Sarah Everard’s death, 160,000 people got in touch in just two weeks.

But ambition alone won’t be enough.

Victims currently face enormous delays getting justice because of endemic backlogs in the Crown Courts.

The recent government Rape Review, designed to boost woefully poor conviction rates, was described by the Victims' Commissioner Vera Baird as "underwhelming", despite a rare and fulsome apology from the government for its failures.

Victims' Commissioner Dame Vera Baird says the new plan isn't "strategic" or backed by "significant funding"

Last year, Dame Vera warned of the effective decriminalisation of rape.

On Wednesday, she concludes in her annual report: "Nothing in the past year has swayed me from that perspective". Many charities and women’s organisations share her concern that there simply isn’t enough long-term funding or a clear strategy on offer to change things. It’s true there is much to welcome in the new strategy.

The government is promising to look at whether a new law is needed to make street harassment a specific offence - it will be telling to see if and how quickly that happens.

There will be also be a national police chief appointed to take the lead on these types of crime. But far-reaching work and funding is needed right across the system to radically change the way we prevent, police and prosecute sexual harassment and abuse.

Until then, it will remain an unwanted, everyday reality for too many women and girls.