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Sarah Everard protests vigil
Photography Melissa Arras

Misogyny is set to become a hate crime – but will it make any difference?

Just 1.5 per cent of reported rape cases result in charges, while the police are often the perpetrators of sexual crimes. Activists say more laws aren’t the answer

Yesterday (March 18), after a lengthy campaign by activists and a week of protests against male and state violence against women, it was announced that misogyny will soon be considered a hate crime in England and Wales.

The government announced that on an experimental basis from autumn, it will “ask police forces to identify and record any crimes of violence against the person, including stalking and harassment, as well as sexual offenses where the victim perceives it to have been motivated by a hostility based on their sex”. 

The new guidance for England and Wales comes five years after Nottinghamshire police first recognised misogyny as a hate crime back in 2016. Speaking to Dazed last year, Sue Fish, a former officer in the county, said the changes made women feel safer and more comfortable, as well as “more confident to report what had happened to them”.

Labour MP Stella Creasy has been at the forefront of the national campaign to make misogyny a hate crime, presenting amendments to the government’s Domestic Abuse Bill to make it law. In a statement sent to Dazed, Creasy says: “I’m delighted that the government has listened to this cross party and grassroots campaign, and is now taking the first steps towards making it happen.”

She continues: “Recording where crimes are motivated by hatred of women will help us better understand the scale of the problem and so be better able to prevent these crimes – it should give all women confidence that if they come forward to report crimes, they will be taken seriously too.”

As reported by CNN, the decision won’t require a change in law as it’s already possible to categorise these offenses as hate crimes – confusing, then, why they haven’t been so far. The move is said to be experimental because the government has been advised that it won’t necessarily be more effective in bringing offenders to justice.

This is no surprise to Abolitionist Futures, a group campaigning for the abolition of the police and prison system. “What do reporting and convictions actually do for people who’ve experienced gender-based violence? In short, very little,” organiser Honor tells Dazed. “Hate crime laws position individuals who say slurs and harass people on the street, among other things, as responsible for society-wide misogyny, racism, and homophobia.”

Honor explains that increasing police power in the name of these types of hate crimes positions them as in opposition to the police and the state, when in fact, “they are encouraged by our government”.

She adds: “Convictions, fines, and imprisonment do nothing to hold those who commit hate crimes accountable, to understand the trauma they cause, or why their actions are harmful. Hate crime law asks communities who already have a problematic relationship with the police to engage with the police to get recognition, when instead we could be building more effective support systems – away from an institution many don’t want to approach.”

Citizens UK, which led its own campaign to make misogyny a hate crime, says the win shouldn’t be framed as increasing police power or criminalising already over-policied communities. One of the group’s members Taj Khan explains: “The power of this development lies in the positive effect it will have on tracking and recording misogynistic hate crimes so that patterns can be identified and perpetrators can be held accountable – in some cases before they have a chance to commit more serious crimes.”

Khan says Citizens UK campaigned for “solutions that are separate from the criminal justice system”, including training and greater accountability for institutions responsible for safety in public spaces.

She does add, however, that “while this is a massive win for women and girls everywhere, it’s important to note that the misogyny embedded in our society is also rampant in police institutions”.

“Hate crime law asks communities who already have a problematic relationship with the police to engage with the police to get recognition” – Honor, Abolitionist Futures

Sarah Everard – whose disappearance and murder sparked mass protests – was allegedly killed by a serving Met police officer. Statistics prove that police officers are disproportionately represented as perpetrators of violence and abuse compared to the general population. Police employees accused of domestic abuse are a third less likely to be convicted than the general public. A Freedom of Information request submitted by The Centre For Women’s Justice in 2020 showed there were 19 convictions for 493 reports against police officers, a rate of 3.9 per cent, while the general population rate is 6.2 per cent.

More widely, prosecution rates for sexual abuse are startlingly low – recent figures show just 1.5 per cent of recorded rape cases last year lead to a charge – so it’s not hard to see why women would neither bother nor feel comfortable reporting instances of misogyny.

“The appalling attitudes of police officers towards survivors of sexual violence are well-documented,” says Honor. “The police don’t keep us safe, the police are violence workers.”

“The ending of sexual abuse requires a transformation of how we relate to one another, especially relations between cis men and people of other genders,” she continues. “It’s an endemic, pervasive problem with no single solution. What is clear is that it cannot be individualised; as much as individual people who commit acts of sexual violence create devastating trauma and suffering that must be addressed, this is a society-wide issue that cannot be solved by arresting and imprisoning individuals.”

Honor concludes: “Attempting to redress violence with further violence in the form of policing – especially as the police disproportionately harass, arrest, and imprison Black people – further entrenches forms of widespread societal violence. Policing – in depriving people of liberty, causing trauma, and taking people away from their communities – forgoes any opportunity for broader community healing and accountability, instead creating more harm and bolstering the broader structures that are responsible for misogyny, racism and homophobia in the first place.”

Yesterday, after a week of action, Sisters Uncut succeeded in delaying the government’s proposed changes to the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill, which could see increased restrictions on protests and dangerous ‘reforms’ to the criminal justice system. Here, the group shares its five steps to imagining radical change and ending state violence.