British politicians and activists are proposing a monumental new law that would tackle gendered harassment and abuse
We all know that misogyny is rife. According to Amelia Womack, Deputy Leader of the Green Party, 90 per cent of British women have experienced street harassment by age 17; 85 per cent between the ages of 17 and 24 have been subjected to unwanted sexual advances.
Womack is just one of many voices calling to have misogyny classified as a hate crime. Alongside campaigners, activists and MPs, she believes that it’s time for the change: speaking to Vogue in May, she argued that we need the law “to show that you don’t have to wait to be physically abused before you can go to the police”.
MP Stella Creasy is also keen on making the law a reality.
“These amendments to the Voyeurism Bill were to recognise upskirting does not happen in a vacuum but an environment where women face repeated forms of harassment by those who are hostile to them as women,” she explains, pointing to statistics that show 45 per cent of women have been sexually harassed in a public place; a further 63 per cent have changed their behaviour as a result of street harassment.
“(The amendment) is a big step towards calling time on street harassment and to saying misogyny isn’t an inevitable part of life women should put up with or all men commit, but something that damages our society and each of us can make sure is tackled,” she continued.
Experts agree. Mark Walters, Senior Lecturer in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Sussex and co-director of the International Network for Hate Studies has also argued that misogyny should be included in hate crime legislation. “It’s a notable omission when we consider the targeted and often bias motives involved in such offences,” he explains.
Walters also points to feminist writer Caroline Criado-Perez’s experience with trolls threatening to rape her: “the case illustrates the presence and continued willingness of many to vocalise their disdain of any woman who represents a threat to our male-dominated society,” he says.
Many men convicted of violence against women are also strongly motivated by misogyny, he argues; one way rape could be “reframed” is through hate crime legislation. “By including gender within hate crime legislation, many offences of rape would be understood, not just as acts of sexual abuse, but as acts of prejudice used against women to oppress, subordinate and control them,” he says.
“Changes to hate crime legislation is needed because currently gender is not a category in its own right,” Loretta Trickett, associate professor at Nottingham Law School, tells Dazed.
“The Law Commission will have to decide whether they change the law to include Misogyny in its own right or the category of gender which would include both women and men, but where women were included it would usually take the form of misogyny. This will be part of the debate that takes place.”
“Women currently are much more subject to sexual street harassment than men, although gay men often receive it also. Heterosexual men rarely get harassed in the street by women in a sexualised way.”
“People should not have to accept this behaviour, and shouldn’t have to change their own behaviour to avoid harassment”
So what would such legislation actually look like? In Nottingham, it’s already happening. Nottinghamshire Police Force are the first in the country to deal with misogyny as a hate crime, categorising misogynistic behaviour as either “hate crime” if any criminal activity was involved, or “hate incidents” if not.
The pilot has had widespread support. A report from the University of Nottingham found an “overwhelming” public support for the trial.
But they also stressed that policy should focus on men, not women – 64 per cent of women surveyed said they’d changed their behaviour in order to avoid harassment, from changing their clothing, not posting online or not using public transport.
“The primary objective of the policy change was not to see hundreds of prosecutions, it was to let people know that this behaviour isn’t acceptable and will not be tolerated in Nottinghamshire,” said Nottingham Women’s Centre Chief Executive Helen Voce. “People should not have to accept this behaviour and shouldn’t have to change their own behaviour to avoid harassment of this nature.”
“What this research clearly shows is that people don’t want it anymore, and this policy is a step in the right direction in helping to change the culture across the county and stop this happening at all. We also hope that other areas will follow suit.”
Trickett explains that the law would have to follow current hate crime legislation, whereby “any crime can be prosecuted as a hate crime if there is proof that it was motivated in full or in part by hostility towards someone based on a personal characteristic “.
“For the legislation to be really helpful, then all categories need to be on a parity; currently disability, sexuality and transgender are not on par with race and religion,” she continues. “All of these, in my opinion, should be put on a parity by the law commission – there should not be some crimes where, if hostility is proven, then you have to additionally apply for an uplift tariff rather than it being built into the legislation itself as it already is with race and religion.”
Time will tell whether misogyny will become a hate crime. But with the report also finding that 24.7 per cent of survey respondents reported having been sexually assaulted, 46.2 per cent being groped, 17.3 per cent being photographed, 62.9 per cent being whistled at and 48.9 per cent unwanted sexual advances, it’s clear that something has to change.