Stella Creasy calls for ‘it was a compliment’ to be dismissed as a defence for harassment

Stella Creasy. (Getty Images)
Stella Creasy has shared her own experience of harassment. (Getty Images)

Stella Creasy has spoken out about why the argument 'it was a compliment' shouldn't be used as a defence against harassment.

The Labour MP, 45, has called on the public to contact their MPs and tell them why 'we need to close the legal loophole in the Public Harassment Bill'.

Sharing her own experience on Twitter, with a trigger warning, she wrote, "Leaving parliament after dark, a man came up behind me, put his arms around my neck and then on my breasts and suggested I might want to go to the pub to get to know him better.

"Use this thread to tell MPs why ‘it was a compliment’ shouldn’t be defence against harassment."

Her post has prompted many other women to share their own personal experiences.

Read more: Emily Atack and Fearne Cotton receive 'disturbing' messages and photos after sexual harassment podcast

One Twitter user wrote, "Touching another is never 'a compliment' if unwanted and uninvited. I recall being in my early twenties I had a man grab my face & try to force a kiss. I was waiting for a cab home. A few years later I had another male believe it was acceptable to put his hand up my skirt."

"Sometimes we have to laugh it off because that's the safest option. That does not mean it's received as a compliment, it's because we're scared of it escalating into an attack," commented another user.

Read more: Emily Atack ‘damaged’ by sexual harassment since the age of 10

In a positive move, the UK government has backed a bill to criminalise sexual harassment in the street – including behaviour like deliberately walking closely behind someone at night, making aggressive comments or gestures towards them, obstructing their path or driving slowly near them in public spaces.

But Creasy points out that public order offences allow the accused to argue that they thought their behaviour was reasonable, even if no one else would, as a defence.

This is different to other harassment legislation that only allows a defendant to claim their behaviour is reasonable if others would agree, and that they 'ought to know' if their conduct was unacceptable.

Watch: Stella Creasy: Labour MP reveals gang rape threat while at Cambridge University

"Without changing this element of the forthcoming public harassment bill to be consistent with how harassment operates elsewhere, this new law – while well-intentioned – risks giving perpetrators the opportunity to claim 'she just can’t take a compliment' as an actual defence to a criminal offence," Creasy wrote in The Guardian on Tuesday.

"There is still time to close this legal loophole. With the support of MPs in the coming weeks, we can ensure that all harassment offences deal in the same way with claims of reasonableness by defendants towards their victims.

"It’s clear the public would agree – according to one survey, one in three people think that sexist abuse should lead to more than a year in prison."