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Women’s rights protest
Photography Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona, via Unsplash

The UK government backtracks on its promise to make misogyny a hate crime

Despite planning to introduce the move on an experimental basis this autumn, Boris Johnson has now said it would actually ‘increase the problem’

Boris Johnson has rejected calls to make misogyny a hate crime in the UK, saying there is already “abundant” existing legislation to tackle violence against women and girls.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast in light of Sarah Everard’s killer receiving a whole-life term for her kidnap, rape, and murder, Johnson said that “widening the scope of crimes” would “just increase the problem”. Instead, he called for the existing laws to be enforced and prosecuted more quickly and efficiently, and cited more CCTV, street lights, and female police officers, as well as longer sentences for perpetrators as the solution.

“The way the police and the whole criminal justice system handles crimes of violence against women is just not working,” Johnson said. “There is abundant statute that is not being properly enforced, and that’s what we need to focus on. (The police) need to be taking women’s complaints seriously, and we need to be contracting the period between a woman reporting her complaint and the disposal in court, because it’s taking far too long. That is why women feel betrayed by the system at the moment.”

The prime minister also dodged questions about why he’s backtracking on the government’s March announcement that misogyny would be made a hate crime on an experimental basis from this autumn. The decision was made after public outrage over Everard’s murder at the hands of a serving Metropolitan Police officer on March 3. As reported by CNN at the time, making misogyny a hate crime wouldn't require a change in law as it’s already possible to categorise these offenses as hate crimes.

In fact, 11 out of 43 police forces in the UK already consider misogyny a hate crime, with Nottinghamshire becoming the first to do so in 2016. Under these rules, instances of uninvited sexual advances and street harassment towards women – including catcalling and wolf-whistling – can be reported and investigated by police.

Responding to Johnson’s comments on Twitter, Labour MP Stella Creasy – who’s been at the forefront of the national campaign to make misogyny a hate crime – said: “Given the law commission has recommended recognising where crimes motivated by misogyny, the national policing council supports it, and evidence shows it improves victim confidence, why does Boris Johnson feel he knows better? Or does he just not know what he’s talking about…”

In a previous tweet, Creasy criticised the Met Police and its commissioner Cressida Dick for arguing against implementing the move while not providing “any alternative plan to keep women safe on our streets except to tell them to be careful”.

While supporters say the move will help us better understand the scale of the problem and make women feel safer and more confident to report misogyny, critics assert that increasing police power won’t do anything to help victims of gender-based violence, nor tackle the root of the problem.

Speaking to Dazed in March, police abolitionist group Abolitionist Futures said: “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. 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.”

As Everard was murdered by a serving Met officer – who used his ID badge to stage a fake arrest of the 33-year-old and trick her into his car – heightening police powers won’t make people feel safer when the police are the threat (something people of colour have been pointing out for decades). Although, nobody told the Met that, who have suggested that those who feel threatened by the police should run away, hail a bus, or even... call the police.

“The police is an institution built on coercion and violence, and it is one so rotten that it is incapable of reform,” Sisters Uncut told Dazed last week. “What we hope to change now is how the public engages. There are many more of us than them, and we have the power to stop people being kidnapped, thrown in the back of vans and cars, and driven off with no witnesses. It is time for our communities to skill up in police intervention, bystander intervention, and start local Cop Watch groups.”

Sisters Uncut is launching police intervention training. You can sign up here.