Priti Patel: Police must not treat flashing and harassment of women as ‘low level’

The Home Secretary has called on police forces across the country to ‘raise the bar’ and put and end to the ‘postcode lottery’ of enforcement

Priti Patel says police must ‘raise the bar’ and make sure reports of flashing and harassment are taken ‘seriously’ in the wake of the Sarah Everard case.

The home secretary’s comments come amid wide criticism of the police over a widespread failure to tackle violence against women.

At a glance: 5 key points

  • Home secretary Priti Patel said she doesn’t want to see ‘postcode lotteries’ in how the police handle reports of flashing and harassment of women, as she said some forces currently treat them as ‘low level’ crimes
  • Prime minister Boris Johnson said the public is “not wrong” to think the police don’t take the issue seriously enough, but said people can “trust the police”
  • Their comments come after former Met Officer Wayne Couzens received a whole life sentence for the murder of Sarah Everard, having kidnapped her by carrying out a fake arrest using his police-issue handcuffs and warrant card
  • There have been calls for the Met commissioner Cressida Dick to resign over her handling of the case itself and the policing of a vigil held in the days after the murder, which was criticised as unnecessarily heavy-handed
  • It has been reported that the Home Office is drawing up plans for a major campaign to encourage women to report street harassment, and for police forces to enforce the law fully

What’s been said?

Speaking to the Telegraph, Priti Patel said: "I would say to all women – give voice to these issues, please. It's right that that happens. There is something so corrosive in society if people think that it's OK to harass women verbally, physically, and in an abusive way on the street, and all that kind of stuff.

"I want women to have the confidence to call it out. I don't see all of this as low level. Where I am on this is parity of treatment of anyone that reports a crime. I don't want to see postcode lotteries around the country.

"This is a very clear message to police to raise the bar. Treat everybody in the right way. Make sure that when these crimes or concerns are reported, people are treated with respect, dignity and seriously."

Speaking to The Times, Boris Johnson said: “Are the police taking this issue seriously enough? It’s infuriating. I think the public feel that they aren’t and they’re not wrong.”

“Do I fundamentally believe the police are on our side? Yes, absolutely they are. Can you trust the police? Yes you can. But there is an issue about how we handle sexual violence, domestic violence – the sensitivity, the diligence, the time, the delay, the confusion about your mobile phone. That’s the thing we need to fix.”


Wayne Couzens, 48, accused Ms Everard of breaking Covid-19 lockdown rules, and used his Metropolitan Police-issue warrant card and handcuffs to snatch the 33-year-old marketing executive as she walked home from a friend’s house in Clapham, south London, on the evening of 3 March.

The firearms officer, who had clocked off from a 12-hour shift at the American embassy that morning, drove to a secluded rural area near Dover in Kent, where he parked up and raped Ms Everard.

Ms Everard, who lived in Brixton, south London, had been strangled with Couzens’ police belt by 2.30am the following morning.

A vetting check was not carried out “correctly” on Couzens when he joined the force in 2018, linking him to another indecent exposure allegation in Kent in 2015, Assistant Met Commissioner Nick Ephgrave said.

The vetting did not flag up that a vehicle associated with Couzens had been identified in the Kent Police investigation.

But Mr Ephgrave said that even if it had come up in the vetting process, it would not have changed the outcome because the investigation resulted in no further action and Couzens was never named as a suspect.