Should we class misogyny as a hate crime?
For those not in the know Nottinghamshire is a county in the East Midlands of the U.K. It’s recent claim to fame is that the police now class misogyny as a hate crime. Nottinghamshire is particularly sensitive about the subject, after an incident in which a TV presenter was harassed in the street – whilst on camera talking, ironically, about street harassment. The video of the event went viral and the local police have been working hard to repair the PR damage.
A move to classify misogyny as a hate crime has been escalating for a time. The police are working with the Nottingham Women’s Centre, which is helping to train officers and call centre staff the intention is to show “support as we would to any victim of a hate crime.” It doesn’t necessarily mean that an arrest will follow. The hope is that recording a misognist incident as a hate crime, rather than a public order offence will give the police a chance to monitor incidents. They can then examine any trends and deploy personnel appropriately to deal with it. Are women being routinely getting harassed in a particular area of town on Saturday nights? If so the police can send more officers to the area. It will also indicate if there is a pattern to any type of harassment or any specific individual is being targeted.
“This will give us a better understanding about what’s happening in Nottinghamshire and allow us to be more sophisticated in the way we address it,”
Offences could range from physical or verbal harassment to “uninvited engagement” and “unwanted or uninvited” text messages.
Read: Does the corporate world ‘masculate’ women?
What makes a hate crime?
In the UK, a hate crime is already recorded for 5 categories: disability, gender identity, race or ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation. Forces are allowed to add their own definitions. After a series of unprovoked assaults, and ultimately the murder of Sophie Lancaster, which may have been linked to being a member of the goth subculture, some police forces now class attacks on goths and other sub-cultures as hate crimes.
The intent is admirable, but will classing misogyny as a hate crime actually stop or change anything? Domestic violence and sexual assault are already crimes. There’s a catch-all offence of “causing public fear, alarm, or distress” which could cover things like cat-calling or inappropriate comments.
Many countries have some sort of penalty-enhancement scheme for hate crime. In the UK, a murder motivated by one of the ‘classic’ 5 hate crime categories will get you life with a minimum of 30 years instead of the standard 25 year minimum. It rarely comes up in court; it’s difficult to prove intent, and plea bargaining means that offenders usually agree to plead guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence. If the whole country decided to class misogyny as a hate crime, we’d probably see the same sort of outcomes in court, which could led to harsher sentences for violent and sexual assault cases against women.
England and Wales 30 x worse than US?
That is if it ever comes to court. A US study found enormous under-reporting of hate crimes, sometimes due to different practices in different states, but more often due to deliberate under-recording. An FBI survey found under 7,000 hate crimes recorded in the whole of the USA in 2014; England and Wales, with a quarter of the population, recorded 50,000 in the same year. This amounts to almost 30 times more hate crime relative to the size of the population. (Perhaps the English are more racist and homophobic than the Americans – but they can’t be 30 times worse, surely?) Clearly, law enforcement attitudes makes a big difference in whether something is recorded as a hate crime or not.
Read: The return of a misogynist culture
In the UK, it’s estimated that just 48% of hate crime incidents come to the attention of police (and this has increased in the UK since the EU referendum). While this doesn’t sound like much, it’s higher than the current 15% rate of reporting for rape, which in turn is far higher than the rate of reporting for less serious sexual offences like harassment, groping or indecent exposure. Maybe recasting misogyny as a hate crime will encourage more women to come forward about crimes like this, because is shows that the police are taking it seriously.
The Nottingham initiative is likely to end up as a well-meaning gesture rather than a serious crackdown; but anything which encourages the justice system to take sexual offences more seriously is always welcome.
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