Making wolf-whistling a crime is a waste of police time and patronises women, says academic

Instead of chasing wolf-whistling men, police should be tackling real crime, says Joanna Williams

University of Kent lecturer Joanna Williams has pilloried the campaign to make wolf-whistling a hate crime.

The education expert and prominent social commentator argues that women are capable enough of dealing with male advances without the need for legal intervention.

Her comments come in a week in which International Women’s Day was marked by an effort by MPs including Canterbury and Whitstable’s Rosie Duffield and shadow housing minister Melanie Onn to formally outlaw misogyny.

Dr Williams said: “The truth is that whistling has never really harmed any [women], and Onn’s proposed new law will just criminalise men for their imagined bad thoughts.

“It also assumes that woman are weak: in need of protection from noises they don’t like, while the women I know are more than capable of handling any street lech.

Joanna Williams: Law would patronise women

“Most women can give as good as they get – either by shouting back, walking away or – shocking though it may seem to many of today’s prudish feminists – smiling.”

In 2016 police in Nottinghamshire began recording wolf-whistling as hate crime.

And a poll by YouGov shows that 85% of women aged between 18 and 24 claim to have been sexually harassed.

But Dr Williams argues that this is a product of the loose contemporary definition of sexual harassment.

Writing in The Sun, she went on: “Statistics can indeed make it appear as if women are harassed every time they venture out.

“Young women today define sexual harassment very broadly – and almost a third think that winking is a form of harassment.

“With descriptions this broad, the term sexual harassment becomes utterly meaningless, reduced in many definitions to mean unwanted attention. But any interaction, even saying hello, can be unwanted.

“The problem is you can never know whether your smile, wink or compliment is unwanted until after the event.

“Just because a whistle might be unwanted, that doesn’t transform it into an act of hate on par with racist or homophobic attacks.”

Dr Williams added that while real sexual harassment must be taken seriously, it should be regarded as distinct from wolf-whistling or winking – with police left to get on targeting real crime.

She added: “Rather than inflating hate crime statistics with spurious non-offences we should let the police focus on real crimes.

“In reality, Onn’s proposals are less about rounding up criminals and more about changing our culture.

“But what her supporters in Parliament forget is that not everyone wants to live in a world where all interactions between men and women are monitored and policed – right down to every last whistle.”

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