Every year on International Women’s Day, Jess Phillips MP reads out a list of the women killed by men over the year. This year, on the very same day, Sarah Everard’s remains were found. Phillips concluded the list of names with a powerful statement: “dead women is a thing we’ve all just accepted”.
In 2020, 118 women were killed by men, 151,000 were victims of rape or attempted rape and 1.6 million were estimated to have been domestically abused. In their lifetimes, 3.4 million are estimated to be victims of sexual assault. The number for men is significantly lower, at 650,000.
It is only in the past couple of days that any of the above have been considered hate crimes nationally.
Hate crimes are any crimes that are motivated by a victim’s protected characteristic – in other words, an aspect of their identity which could motivate an attack by someone with discriminatory views. Introduced between 1998 and 2003, these protected characteristics were initially limited to race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and trans identity. This month, it has been announced that attacks motivated by misogyny (the hatred of women) will also be classified as hate crimes.
The benefit of making misogyny a hate crime is that it will provide data to establish patterns of misogynistic behaviour that then lead to more serious crimes. Nottinghamshire police have been doing this since 2016 and the results have been promising.
The key question we are left with is why it has taken 22 years for any national measures that protect women to be put in place.
Not everyone is on board with the idea; the Equalities Minister, Victoria Atkins, said in 2018 that Parliament should “be careful about creating laws that would inadvertently conflict principles of equality” , and she questioned whether we should have laws that benefit 50% of the population over the rest.
Sara Thornton, former chairwoman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, argued the police were already spread too thin without the added crime of misogyny.
A common argument that is put forward against making misogyny a hate crime is that it would criminalise wolf whistling. This, however, is a gross trivialisation. An action must first be considered a crime before it can be considered a hate crime. Adding misogyny to the list of protected characteristics would not create new crimes or make more work for the police, but instead provide another means by which to classify criminal motivation and intent. This helps to identify how sexist behaviour and comments can lead individuals to commit even more damaging acts of sexual violence in the future.
Although the results from Nottinghamshire have seen more crimes being reported, this is a sign of greater trust in the police, which is a positive effect of the scheme. Ultimately, these crimes are happening, irrespective of whether they are reported to the police or classified as hate crimes.
As far as ‘conflicting principles of equality’ are concerned, it’s worth pointing out that roughly 97% of women have been the victims of some form of violence or harassment at the hands of men. A law that tackles gender-based violence with the hope of lowering this statistic will aim to improve equality rather than prioritising women over men.
Ultimately, the point of the legal system is to protect citizens. When existing laws fail 97% of women, it is right that action was taken, and we should welcome this long-overdue legal reform.