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Why misogyny could soon become a hate crime in the UK

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Susan Devaney
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Campaigners are urging police forces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland to record street harassment as a hate crime. 

Women being harassed on the street is so prevalent that you’d be hard pressed to find a woman who hasn’t been followed home by a man, who hasn’t been catcalled about her body or who hasn’t been wolf-whistled at from a man behind the wheel of a car.

But if the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up initiative have proven anything it’s that women have well and truly had enough. Which is why campaign groups – the Fawcett Society and Citizens UK – have written an open letter to the National Police Chiefs’ Council urging them to recognise the public harassment of women as a gender hate crime across the UK. 

The ‘misogyny hate crime’ policy has already been rolled out in Nottingham since 2016, and recent research has found “shocking” results from the incidents surveyed in the city. 

By surveying nearly 700 residents, researchers from Nottingham and Nottingham Trent universities found that harassment aimed at women in public spaces is endemic. Nine out of 10 (93.7%) of respondents had either experienced or witnessed street harassment, with women from black and minority ethnic groups feeling extremely vulnerable to attack on the basis of gender and race.

“Much of this behaviour on this spectrum is criminal behaviour, there’s no doubt about that. People could have gone to the police about it before,” Dr Loretta Trickett told BBC News.

“But because of the culture we have it’s just acceptable to intimidate women on the street, to go up to a woman and touch her backside, or to comment on her body and put her in fear of an assault.”

Currently, misogyny hate crimes are defined as ‘incidents against women that are motivated by the attitude of men towards women and includes behaviour targeted at women by men simply because they are women’.

From May 2016 to June 2018, the Nottingham police force have received 181 reports of misogyny hate crimes

“Misogyny is so commonplace in our society that we don’t even recognise it,” Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society’s chief executive, tells stylist.co.uk. “But it is this underlying misogynistic culture which ensures that violence against women and girls is endemic. By categorising it as a hate crime we will send a strong signal that it is not acceptable and that women and girls have the right to live free from abuse and objectification.”

In May 2016, Nottinghamshire police, in partnership with Nottingham Women’s Centre, became the first force in the UK to record public harassment of women. From then until June 2018, the force has received 181 reports of misogyny hate crimes, including verbal abuse, threats of violence, assault and unwanted physical contact.

“We believe misogyny is the soil in which violence against women and girls grows,” said Helen Voce, CEO of Nottingham Women’s Centre. “The same attitudes at the root of sexism and harassment are the same attitudes that drive more serious domestic and sexual violence. Classifying misogyny as a hate crime enables the police to deal robustly with the root causes of violence against women.”

The survey also found that women had experienced indecent exposure (25.9%), groping (46.2%), men taking unwanted photos (17.3%), upskirting (6.8%), online abuse (21.7%), being followed home (25.2%), wolf-whistling (25.2%), threatening behaviour (51.8%), and unwanted sexual advances (48.9%). However, researchers found that the new policy is already “shifting attitudes”.

The NPCC will discuss the case for adopting the policy across England, Wales and Northern Ireland on Wednesday.

Street harassment is also currently being considered as a hate crime in Scotland, too.

Images: Getty / Unsplash 

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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for Stylist.co.uk, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.

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