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Photography Michelle Ding, via Unsplash

The fight to make misogyny a hate crime in the UK

Melania Geymonat, who was assaulted on a London bus last year, explains why she’s supporting Citizens UK’s campaign, which reveals the extent of abuse suffered by women

In May 2019, Melania Geymonat and her partner Christine Hannigan were travelling on a night bus in London when they were approached by a group of teenagers. Three boys surrounded the women, spouting homophobic slurs and making sexual gestures. After demanding that Geymonat and Hannigan kiss, the teens launched an attack, punching the pair in the face and stealing their belongings.

The incident drew mass media attention, and was widely condemned by politicians and LGBTQ+ activist groups. Former prime minister Theresa May declared that “nobody should ever have to hide who they are or who they love”, adding that “we must work together to eradicate unacceptable violence towards the LGBTQ+ community”.

Although the attack was clearly motivated by homophobia, Geymonat and Hannigan assert it was also the result of misogyny – something still not considered a hate crime in the UK. In an attempt to change this, the pair are backing a new campaign by Citizens UK, which reveals the extent of the harassment faced by women across the country.

“Laws can protect women from feeling violated,” Geymonat tells Dazed, “but that permission is not given today. Once we acknowledge the violence, we can do something.”

Geymonat and Hannigan’s attackers were handed criminal sentences based on the homophobic nature of their crime, but Geymonat says that by not addressing the misogynistic motivation, authorities are “not actually recognising the reality as it was”.

According to Citizens UK’s new report, gender-motivated hate is already a factor in 33.5 per cent of all existing hate crimes, with women three times more likely than men to experience both threats and acts of sexual violence and assault. And yet, women are left unprotected by current hate crime laws.

“When women are targeted because of their gender, they experience the same sorts of heightened psychological harms and community-level impacts that happen with other forms of hate crime,” Sam Gough, a spokesperson for Citizens UK, tells Dazed. “Other members of the targeted group suddenly experience all these forms of fear and anxiety, and feel forced to be more cautious themselves.”

“Laws can protect women from feeling violated, but that permission is not given today” – Melania Geymonat

Gough explains that under current hate crime legislation, if you’re attacked based on “multiple dimensions of your identity, you have to choose which dimension you want to report the incident under”. This means if you’re a victim of homophobia and racism, and you decide to convict based on racism, any homophobia will be dismissed as evidence. As the law stands currently, misogyny is not considered.

Alison Branitsky, a Jewish woman quoted in Citizens UK report, says she is regularly targeted because of both her religion and gender. “I face anti-semitic and sexual comments frequently,” she reveals. “In one of these incidents, I was walking down the street wearing my kippah when two men started to shout anti-semitic abuse at me. One of the men then pinned me to the wall and told me if I wasn’t going to run his business for him, I should sleep with him instead.”

“By forcing people to tick a box, we’re actually discarding a lot of the evidence and making it harder for victims to get justice and support,” continues Gough.

It’s unsurprising, then, that Citizens UK found that over six in ten victims of hate crime never reported it to the police. For women, this reasoning could be three-fold: there is no direct protection for misogynistic attacks; violence against women rarely ends in justice (just 5.7 per cent of reported rape cases end in a conviction); and misogyny has been normalised by society.

“One thing a lot of women told us was just how ordinary forms of misogyny could be,” says Gough. “Misogyny gets naturalised in this way not just for victims, but for everyone. It’s hard to name, it’s hard to recognise, and attempts to do something about it are often met with backlash, because some people feel as if you’re making a big deal out of something they see as ordinary and harmless.”

Farhan Samanani, the study’s co-author, says that a third of victims don’t even recognise that they’ve experienced a hate crime. “They chalk these experiences up as a normal part of life,” he explains, “or question their own perception of how bad it was.”

“Attempts to do something about misogyny are often met with backlash, because some people feel as if you’re making a big deal out of something they see as ordinary and harmless” – Sam Gough, Citizens UK

Geymonat says this normalisation has dangerous effects. “Far too often we experience abusive language, demeaning comments, and sexual harassment,” she tells Dazed. “Far too many stages of violence that go unnoticed before reaching the point of sexual and physical abuse.”

According to Citizens UK, over 80 per cent of people surveyed support making misogyny a hate crime, as well as adjusting current laws to recognise that people can be targeted based on multiple aspects of their identity.

“Momentum for change is building,” Gough tells Dazed, referencing the recent proposed amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill, which would require the police to record and track crimes motivated by misogyny. “The wheels of government turn slowly, but we can’t see how any decent MP who respects women wouldn’t want to support this common sense move.”

In 2016, Nottinghamshire Police became the first force to treat misogyny as a hate crime – though very few have followed suit in the years since. Last month, three councils in Northern Ireland declared their support for local activist group Raise Your Voice’s campaign to recognise misogyny in hate crime law.

Sue Fish, a former Nottinghamshire officer, said the changes made by her force helped to make women feel safer and more comfortable. “We also saw women feeling much more confident to come to the police to report what had happened to them,” she explains.

Gough says it isn’t just about convicting misogynyists, though. “A lot of people we surveyed recognised that this is a systemic problem that isn’t going to change by dragging a few individuals to court,” he declares. “Preventing hate crimes against women needs education, and it needs people beyond the police – like teachers, doctors, and bouncers – to play their part.”

“Women are angry,” concludes Geymonat, and we’re going to keep fighting until we get to the place we deserve.”