Last year, 67,000 hate crimes were recorded by police in the UK — and 57,000 of them targeted women and girls, according to the Crime Survey of England and Wales.
It’s not a coincidence. Indeed, the Guardian reported on Monday that gender was the motivating factor behind at least half of the hate crimes women faced in 2018 — followed by age, then race.
But misogyny is not actually a hate crime in itself — at least, it’s not officially reported by police in those terms — and a fresh swell of pressure has erupted urging the Metropolitan police force to reassess the status quo.
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The Fawcett Society, a gender equality charity, has written a letter co-signed by politicians and campaigning organisations — including former home secretary Jacqui Smith, Labour MP Stella Creasy, Women’s Aid, and more — calling for legislative change to help protect women.
The addressees? Cressida Dick, the first female Met Police boss, and Sara Thornton, the National Police Chiefs’ Council Chair.
“Women are targeted with harassment on the street and online on an everyday basis,” the letter reads. “Accepting this as normal creates an environment in which one in five women have experienced sexual assault, and each week two women are murdered by a partner or ex-partner.”
This data is just the tip of the iceberg. Women are routinely targeted with abuse and threats online and in our streets. We know that black women, Muslim women and Jewish women are particularly affected. The way we tackle #HateCrime must reflect that. https://t.co/6psCXfwjdk— Fawcett Society (@fawcettsociety) January 14, 2019
The letter urged Dick and Thornton to include misogyny in hate crime reporting — something which Thornton had previously said would be “desirable”, but difficult without the right resources. Dick added that burglary and violence should be prioritised instead.
“In terms of misogyny, we have hate crime in legislation currently,” Dick said in November 2018. “We have aggravating factors, racially, or race hate. We have specific statutes and offences, we don’t have those in relation to gender-related crime or misogyny and, in my view, we should be focusing on the things that the public tell me they care about most.”
As Dick mentions, there are laws against hate crime to protect characteristics like disability, race, religion, or sexual orientation — but campaigners have pointed out that gender is excluded from legislation.
And Sam Smethers, the Fawcett Society chief executive, insisted that everything we know about misogynistic hate crime is “just the tip of the iceberg.” Although she said she sympathised with the lack of public resources, she insisted it was vital to protect “women [who] are routinely targeted with abuse and threats online and in our streets.”
“We have to recognise how serious misogyny is,” Smethers said. “It is at the root of violence against women and girls. Yet it is so common that we don’t see it. Instead it is dismissed and trivialised. By naming it as a hate crime we will take that vital first step.”
“We recognise the pressure the police are under and will support their efforts to secure more resources,” she added. “But at a time of rising hatred in our society, much of it targeted at women, we have to take this seriously and act.”
While Dick suggested policing priorities should be led by the public interest, the coalition held up an example from Nottinghamshire: police there have reported misogyny as an official hate crime since 2016, and 87% of people thought the policy change was a “good idea.”
If that policy was rolled out nationally, campaigners said, it would reassure women that they are protected by law in an equal vein to race, sexual orientation, and disability — and force the criminal justice system to take complaints of misogyny seriously.
Very happy to support this important initiative. Recognising hate crime against women is a crucial first step to tackling it properly. Pressure on resources must never be an excuse to turn away from victims. https://t.co/6cdiyyGktN— Jacqui Smith (@Jacqui_Smith1) January 14, 2019
In 2018, there was renewed pressure to make misogyny a hate crime in parliament too.
It began with something called the Voyeurism (Offences) Bill. The legislation was initially put forward to make “upskirting” — the practice of taking photos up women’s skirts or down their tops — illegal.
Then Labour MP Stella Creasy suggested an amendment that would increase the sentences for those convicted of hate crimes against women if misogyny was an aggravating factor.
Although the amendment was voted down, a review into existing hate crime laws has been promised.