Misogyny was officially recognized as a hate crime by Nottingham police last month, and now England and Wales are discussing the possibility of exporting the idea to cut down on domestic violence, street harassment, and sexual abuse.
While criminal offenses like domestic violence would have already been investigated under existing law, the hate crime classification allows for more scrutiny toward crimes like street harassment that may not technically be illegal. Twenty such investigations have been opened since the law went into effect, working by a definition similar to those used to protect LGBT and racial minorities.
“Incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman and includes behavior targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman.”
— ThinkProgress (@thinkprogress) September 11, 2016
Experts think that misogyny hate crime reports will spike as university students begin showing up to Nottingham for the new term. Young women are, after all, the group most likely to suffer street harassment. Yet even now, Dave Alton, the hate crime manager for Nottingham police, said that the number of incidents has been substantial, reported The Guardian.
“The number of reports we are receiving is comparable with other, more established, categories of hate crime. We have received numerous reports and have been able to provide a service to women in Nottinghamshire who perhaps wouldn’t have approached us six months ago. The reality is that all of the reports so far have required some form of police action.”
— Jezebel (@Jezebel) September 10, 2016
One focal point of the campaign to get misogyny qualified as a hate crime was the way that things like harassment may encourage behavior that leads to more serious crimes like domestic abuse and rape. Loretta Trickett, a criminologist at Nottingham Trent University, noted that it’s easy for such ideas to take root early in a young man or woman’s life.
“Street harassment is at the root of a lot of the sexualized violence that we see – the idea that women are sexual commodities. It’s also linked to online abuse. A lot of it has gone unchallenged for so long that it has almost become normalized.”
Melanie Jeffs and Lydia Rye, the two women who gave the initial push for the hate crime legislation in Nottingham, are now constantly told online that the “bull dykes” are “not attractive enough” to be behind a campaign against street harassment. Though ultimately the women feel that the internet vitriol vindicates their work to root out such behavior, at times the misogynistic words take on a violent flavor, Jeffs told The Huffington Post.
“I also had someone suggesting that they could find me, tie me up and then… with a GIF of a woman having a dagger plunged through the back of her head… On Twitter it was mostly comments about my looks – because I don’t look feminine.”
Hate crime laws are often a hot-button issue in the United States for those who claim that they unfairly separate crimes committed against minorities. These rules, however, generally apply to any attack where the victim was targeted for his perceived relation to one group or another, even when it is toward a majority group like whites. As is the case with misogyny in Nottingham, they also serve to give the attacked a form of recompense against action that might not necessarily be illegal, like street harassment.
Paul Butler, a professor at George Washington University Law School, told NPR that one of the key intentions behind hate crime laws is to punish both the gesture toward the individual and the community, though it is not certain how this would carry out in practice with misogyny in England and Wales.
“So the idea is that, in those horrid instances, it wasn’t just [the victims] who were impacted, but rather — and specifically — the African-American community and the LGBT community. So when an incident is designed to send a message to a whole group, then the punishment ought to reflect that intent… If you’re convicted of something like that… then you get more time.”
Still some, including Butler himself, are concerned that hate crime laws may police thoughts instead of actions, something that can detrimental to the preservation of freedom of expression. Others say the way they limit harmful speech, like misogyny and homophobia, justifies their existence.
Society’s perceived tendency to minimize or backhandedly condone misogynistic crimes of sexual abuse has been defined as “rape culture” more or more frequently over the past few years. The term is often used in conjunction with the way victims and perpetrators of such crimes are treated in the court system, such as the recent release of Stanford swimmer Brock Turner only halfway through his sentence for attempting to rape an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster.
This breed of misogyny isn’t limited to the American or British justice systems and their hate crime laws either. A judge in Canada may be removed this week for questioning why a victim of sexual abuse “couldn’t keep her knees together” or “hide her bottom in the sink” to avoid penetration. He also said that “drunk girls like to have sex” and that “sometimes sex and pain go together.” Comments that, on the street, would almost assuredly result in a hate crime investigation in Nottingham today.
[Photo by Iakov Filimonov/Getty Images]