Britain’s capital London has become one of the crime capitals of the world. Now the authorities in London have declared staring a sex crime, leaving many to question the vagueness and potential abuse of this classification.
In March this year, London’s mayor, warned Londoners that staring on public transport qualifies for sexual harassment and won’t be tolerated. Khan’s office along with Transport for London (TFL) created posters warning passengers on public transport to refrain from “intrusive staring.” The poster reads:
Intrusive staring of a sexual nature is sexual harassment and is not tolerated.
The poster instructs anyone witnessing such an act to text or call the authorities. It also provides a number to a “sexual harassment line” where witnesses can call anonymously to report staring of a sexual nature.
Following this categorization of staring as a kind of sex crime, advocates of women rights and freedom have debated the issue on traditional and social media. Though the warning posters by Mayor Khan and TFL don’t specify starting by or at any gender, both critics and supporters of the declaration have taken it to mean staring at women by men. Supporters of the move say it will help check the harassing advances of male passengers toward females, something frequently witnessed on public transport.
But critics, including women, are concerned that making starting a sex crime is government overreach and opens the gates to abuse of the vague phrasing used in the warning. Lois McLatchie, a writer for a legal advocacy organization, questioned how somebody would determine what act of staring was intsrusive and what was innocent. Referring to government overreach apparent in the warning against staring, McLatchie said:
Big Brother is watching.
Sadiq Khan, a Muslim of Pakistani descent, infamously made news in 2016 when he announced plans to ban ads showing women in revealing dresses on public transport. Politically aligned with the liberals in and outside Britain, Khan’s move was slammed as an attempt to bring an Islamic code of dress to London’s transport system. Under Khan’s rule, London has made news numerous times for unchecked crime and violence. Last year, Statista reported that London police recorded crime figures showing an increase of 168.76 thousand criminal offenses in the year 2019-20 as against the stats in 2015-16.
Gender historian Zoe Strimple, appearing on Good Morning Britain, pointed to the surging crime in London, including sex crime against women, and wondered why the authorities would not focus on using the limited resources to combat crimes of serious nature instead of wasting efforts on claims of sexual staring.