Tensions between the mayor of London and the Home Office are likely to intensify as both unveil what they are claiming as the UK’s first major campaigns to target perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence.
Football stars, other sports figures, celebrities and influencers have been enrolled by Sadiq Khan to speak to men via billboards and video to address “pervasive misogynistic attitudes”, which experts say if left unchecked can allow harmful behaviours to escalate.
The home secretary, Priti Patel, promised a similar campaign targeting perpetrators more than seven months ago, prompting calls from campaigners for immediate action and then frustration as it failed to materialise.
The first strand of that campaign is set to launch this week with adverts, billboards, social media and radio advertising highlighting “the simple acts that anyone can take to challenge perpetrators of abuse”.
Patel will also announce that tackling violence against women and girls will be made a strategic policing requirement. This means the issue will be a national priority for forces alongside terrorism, serious and organised crime and child sexual abuse. Patel said: “The safety of women and girls is an absolute priority and I do not accept that violence against them is inevitable.”
Her comments arrive days before the first anniversary of the abduction of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan police officer as she walked home in south London.
Latest data reveals that more than 20% of UK women say they have been a victim of sexual assault, with 14% aged 16 to 19 a victim of domestic abuse. In 2020, 99% of adult offenders sentenced or cautioned for sexual offences in London were men.
Khan said: “This is not just an issue with the minority of men who are violent, but with men who are sexist, who behave inappropriately around women, who perpetuate a toxic form of masculinity or who just stand by silently when women feel threatened or are being threatened. Men must change.”
Relations between Khan and Patel have been taut following the recent resignation of Cressida Dick after the London mayor told the head of the Met Police he had lost faith in her, leaving the home secretary to claim his intervention had “blindsided” her.
Last night, women’s groups welcomed Khan’s decision to launch a separate campaign targeting men.
Suzanne Jacob, the chief executive of SafeLives, said: “For the longest time, boys and men have been left outside the conversation about violence against girls and women. We are so encouraged and pleased to see this changing.”
Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “We welcome this important work to reframe narratives around violence against women and girls, putting the focus where it belongs – on perpetrators.”