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Women who helped make catcalling a hate crime targeted with sexist abuse online

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Hayley Spencer
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In July, Nottingham became the first city in the UK to expand its definition of hate crime to include misogynistic incidents, like cat calling and wolf-whistling. Now, in a vitriolic backlash from trolls, two women who helped launch the campaign have been targeted with sexist abuse.

Melanie Jeffs and Lydia Rye [pictured above], who led the research which helped Nottinghamshire police to forward the motion to recognise street harassment as a hate crime, say they have received hundreds of threatening messages via social media in relation to their involvement.

The comments targeted at Jeffs, who is the Nottingham Women's Centre manager, includes people saying she's "not attractive enough" to speak about street harassment and a despicable threat to stab her with a dagger.

She told BBC News: "[The abuse] ranged from the ridiculous to some that were quite aggressive. One person said I should get cancer, I had somebody threatening to find me and tie me up and lots of comments about my appearance."

"There is one that I'm having discussions with the police about, but most of them I just brushed off."

She continued "people think it's completely acceptable to target women in this way".

Melanie Jeffs

Melanie Jeffs of Nottingham Women's Centre

Meanwhile, Rye, the head of Nottingham Citizens which is the city’s branch of Citizens UK, has also been attacked with comments that target her appearanceand been a catalyst to misogynistic threats posted on the Citizen UK Facebook page. 

She told Huffington Post UK “I was stunned people went to the effort of finding me on Twitter and even going via the Citizens UK website comment box to point out that I really wasn’t attractive enough to speak on this issue so I should just shut up.” 

An American Facebook user even allegedly wrote a post on the Citizens UK page saying that if he ever visited the UK he would “make sure every woman I see there is treated like shit”.

Both women have said that the comments only serve to highlight how important their work has been in the advancement of attitudes towards street harassment.

“It made me feel deeply vindicated that this work was done - those commenting were proving the very need for this categorisation,” Rye said.

“I think it brings it out into the light,” added Jeffs. 

And despite the slew of offensive comments the pair say they've received overwhelming support from both genders.

"We had some incredibly supportive messages, including from men – and that shows that perhaps things are changing and this is a step in the right direction at exactly the right time. One man actually said that this whole project made him feel proud to live in Nottinghamshire – that really was good to hea,” said Rye. 

Further highlighting the importance of their work and of Nottinghamshire Police's decision to implement the changes, is the news that they have since received 22 reports and made two arrests as a result of misogynistic hate crimes.

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