Harassers can not be punished: Why is it so Hard to get a Satisfying Result from Sexual Harassment Cases?

Recent researches keep showing a huge percentage of victims who don’t report sexual harassment incidents to the police or authorities. What stops them from seeking justice?

“Some guy grabbed my chest in like a street festival.” Nikki shared her experience of being sexually assaulted like it’s no big deal.

She is a girl from Trinidad in the Caribbean, now living in Bristol. Just like many other people at her age, she has a job. She enjoys food, cocktails, video games and a good chat with people. But also like many other people at her age, unpleasant things happen. When the sexual harassment happened to her, she has been in the UK for only 3 years.

“(I) Went to the police and went to the court but there wasn’t enough evidence so nothing happened to the guy,” said Nikki, “it was annoying that nothing came out of it in the end.”

For Nikki, maybe this annoying experience is not enough to ruin her whole life or to destroy her positivity. But the sense of helplessness will occasionally come to her mind every time she describes it. As a victim who did nothing wrong, she shouldn’t have even a tiny bit of upset because the justice didn’t stand by her side.

News and statistics show that a large amount of sexual harassment cases ended up with no results.
(Photo by Saúl Bucio on Unsplash)

However, she is not an exception. There is a huge group of women behind her, who have experienced sexual harassment in different extends without any protection from local police or authorities.

According to British newspaper The Independent, almost two-thirds of young women who took part in a campaign’s survey said they had “suffered harassment on the Tube network” in London.

Visible, a platform for people in London to report underground sexual harassment, found 90% of those who experienced sexual harassment on London Underground chose not to report it. But around 41% of women surveyed said they’ve made efforts such as changing their clothing, their commute, or their time to travel to avoid potential sexual harassment.

Even the number of rape prosecutions in England and Wales has fallen in the past year, while cases reported to police as rape have risen sharply.

These numbers indicate that many harassers, even rapists, haven’t received any punishment of doing the wrong thing. But women who have been taken advantages from have to change themselves to avoid being insulted, even evidence shows that it’s actually not the case.

Why do women refuse to report sexual harassment incident?

Just like what Nikki said, some behaviour of sexual harassment is in a grey zone. Even the victim reports the incident to the police, it’s very hard to take it finally into court or get something through the process due to the lack of evidence.

According to the UK law, except for rape, sexual assault also is a criminal offence. But to gain a conviction for sexual assault, “the Prosecution has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the complaint did not consent, and the Defendant did not have a reasonable belief that consent was given”.

However, some sexual assaults happen all of a sudden and don’t last very long. It can be a few seconds of groping on the crowded underground. It can be an unwilling waist touch by a college at work. It can also be like what happened when Nikki was assaulted: All the eyewitness were drinking in the festival and were therefore not reliable. Under many situations, it’s very hard to prove anything. But once things happen, the negative effects it brings to the victim are real.

At last Nikki said: “It was a street festival so what do they expect.” Although she sounds everything is fine. But her words represent the feeling of many victims who suffered sexual harassment but can’t do anything about it but to accept.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has stated on the official website: “Cases involving stalking and harassment can be difficult to prosecute, and because of their nature are likely to require sensitive handling, especially with regard to victim care.” The difficulty in prosecution and the normalization of sexual harassment have caused many victims not to report their experience in the first place.

Children’s charity Plan International UK found out 26% of girls aged 14-21 who has experienced street harassment during lockdown didn’t tell anyone about their experience, because they didn’t believe they’d be taken seriously.

“This has led to the prevailing a myth that public street harassment is some kind of compliment or not that big of a deal,” said Deeba Syed, sexual harassment lawyer, to Channel 4.

Although it’s hard to get any positive respond from the police, it doesn’t mean that every victim wants to report in the first place. However, being in this situation can be very emotional and unstable. If the victim hopes to get help from the professionals rather than let it go, what can they do to gain a higher chance of being succeed?

NHS advices on the page “Help after rape and sexual assault” that victims should try not to change clothes directly after sexual assault as evidence might be left on the clothes or the body of victims, which can become important evidence if victims want report to the police.

Instead of calling the police directly, NHS also suggests to call sexual assault referral centre (SARC) at first. Here the survivor will be offered with informal talking, mental counselling, and forensic medical examination, during which the useful evidence will be taken on victim’s body or belongings. The evidence will be very useful if the survivor decides to involve the police and the case eventually goes to court.

The Mix, online guide for people under 25, went to one SARC in Swindon to find out the process of reporting sexual assault.

According to Jan Ryan, independent sexual violence advisor at the Swindon Centre, if the survivor can’t decide whether to report, the evidence will be safely stored for seven years, so survivors will have enough time to go through what has happened and whether they really want to involve the police.

“Some people completely closed down,” said staff at Swindon Centre, “other people find it hard to have eye contact…A lot of emotions going on (in the survivor’s mind).

“We are here to help not to judge anybody. It’s about to looking after them. They’ve not done anything wrong.”

 If the case can’t go to court eventually, maybe this is what can help victims like Nikki the most.