In 2012, Laura Bates started the Everyday Sexism Project. In 2017, the #MeToo movement took down powerful men such as Harvey Weinstein. In 2018, Gina Martin won her campaign to make upskirting illegal. In 2019, a group of MPs including Stella Creasy and Jo Swinson are agitating to have misogyny treated in the same way as racism or homophobia.
In October, the Law Commission – an independent body that recommends legal reforms in England and Wales – announced it was launching a review to examine whether misogyny should be classified as a hate crime, comparable with racism or homophobia.
If they decide it is, this change will be incorporated into UK law. For campaigners, such as Labour’s Stella Creasy and Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, this would be a huge victory.
The amendment would have recognised misogyny as an “aggravating factor” in the proposed Voyeurism Bill – now passed into law as the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019. Taking non-consensual photographs under a dress or skirt became a sexual offence, but in the end, Creasy withdrew her amendment so as not to delay the bill after the government announced it would be funding a full review into hate crime.
As we know, misogyny isn’t confined to upskirting. In January, the Fawcett Society revealed that there had been 57,000 incidents of hate crime targeting women in the last year. It was also recently reported that more than a third of women had experienced “unwanted sexual touching” in public spaces but they felt they couldn’t report it, according to Citizens UK.
So, what would the change in law actually mean? Well, in Nottingham it’s already in action. As part of a pilot conducted by Nottinghamshire Police that started in 2016, incidents of harassment such as stalking, groping and assault are recorded as misogynistic hate crimes and treated as such.
A report from the University of Nottingham found “overwhelming” public support for the pilot and shifting attitudes in the city, but individuals’ experiences often depend on the officer dealing with the complaint. Police in North Yorkshire, Northamptonshire, Surrey, Gloucestershire and Avon and Somerset have since started recording gender-based hate crime while the Law Commission carries out its review.
Creasy believes the law would help validate women’s experiences. “It sends a clear signal that this is not an inevitable part of life,” she tells Stylist. “It’s not about creating new crimes, but recognising where women are subjected to crimes simply because they are women.”
But not everyone thinks it’s a great idea. In response to a letter sent to the Met Police – signed by Swinson and Creasy, Citizens UK, Women’s Aid and the Fawcett Society, among others – Cressida Dick, the Met Police commissioner, said that police were already stretched.
“We have hate crime in legislation currently,” Dick said last year. “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.”
The Law Commission is expected to report back to parliament in 2020. In the meantime, Stylist spoke to four women for whom this change in law would have made a real difference.
“The police said there was nothing they could do about it”
– Gina Martin, 28
“In 2017, I was upskirted at a festival in the UK. I felt totally humiliated. Knowing that some random guy has had his hands between your legs, without your knowledge, and taken pictures is a pretty disgusting feeling.
“Afterwards, I saw him showing his friends the photos, so I grabbed his phone off him and ran to the police with him chasing me. I did all the things women are told to do when they deal with sexual harassment or violence: I brought the police the evidence, and the guy, and was told they “couldn’t do much” because upskirting wasn’t a sexual offence. I campaigned for almost two years to make it one and now it is.
“When the bill was passing through the Houses of Parliament, the MP Stella Creasy tabled an amendment that would have made misogyny an aggravating factor in upskirting offences, which would enable courts to consider it in sentencing and require police forces to record it. But she withdrew it as it would have delayed the upskirting law hugely.
“From that, the government has launched a funded, comprehensive review into hate crime legislation. It needs to be seriously considered. I’d like to think it would make prosecutions easier in a system and society where women are rarely believed and assault is normalised.”
“I was told I should take it as a compliment”
– Sarah D’Angelis, 30
“I was at a nightclub in central London when it happened. A guy came up to me at the bar and asked if he could buy me a drink. I said thanks, but no thanks. He insisted. Again, I said thank you, but I was fine. That’s when he called me a fat, ugly bitch. I shrugged that he had a bruised ego and went on with my night. But he wouldn’t leave me alone.
“When he found out I was gay, the abuse turned homophobic. He was basically suggesting ‘corrective’ rape. When I came back from the toilet he was waiting for me outside, smirking.
“Later, he came up behind me on the dancefloor, groped me and whispered that I just hadn’t been with the right guy. At that point, I went to talk to the bouncer and told him what was happening. His response was that I should take it as a compliment.
“At the end of the night, the man followed me to the taxi rank. I stopped and told a police officer. He didn’t take my details or his, just had a quiet word with him instead. I saw them laughing together. I was so scared that I couldn’t face going home to my own flat – I lived alone – and went back to my mum’s house instead.
“If misogyny had been a hate crime the whole thing would have been handled differently. Nightclubs would have to respond to incidents in this category. There is no grey area. And if they didn’t respond, I could have followed up to make sure their staff received proper training.”
“Misogynistic behaviour has shaped how I have to live”
– Micha Bradshaw, 28
“Last year, I was driving to work when a guy blocked me in the road, got out of his car and proceeded to hurl misogynistic abuse at me (“slut”, “psycho fucking bitch”).
“I recognised him immediately; he was a friend of my ex who was abusive. I locked the door then froze. I was reluctant to report it because the police haven’t taken me seriously in the past, but my manager encouraged me to. So I did.
“It took three weeks for them to take a statement. Initially, I was hopeful it would get somewhere because I could identify him, but I was later told it was deemed a “road rage incident” – even though it was clearly motivated by misogyny – and that the perpetrator, an ex-police officer, was sorry. It was my word against his. I live in Nottingham, where the police have a misogyny hate crime policy, so I made it clear I wanted it reported as one so it could go towards the statistics, but they were very vague about it.
“A month ago, I saw the same man at an event. He blew kisses, winked, spoke to the people next to me like I didn’t exist. Later, he told me I “should have just taken it on the chin” and then, “wait till you see what we do to you”.
“I was terrified. I rang the police and told them what happened but they said the two incidents couldn’t possibly be linked as they were a year apart. They referred me to a victim support group. I still haven’t had my statement taken. My experiences with misogynistic behaviour – rape, abuse and coercion – have shaped how I have to live my life. As victims, we are blamed and not believed. I wholeheartedly believe that if the correct support system was in place to protect victims of misogynistic hate crimes, I wouldn’t have been left feeling so vulnerable.”
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