“Hate crime” is the term given to acts of violence or intimidation directed at people because of their (perceived):
Despite its name, a hate crime is not in fact a crime in itself. Rather, where crimes such as assault or harassment occur, which are motivated by one of the above discriminatory factors, the judge is directed by the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to impose a tougher sentence on the offender.
As of September 2020, the Law Commission has advocated for the inclusion of misogyny as a hate crime characteristic. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, misogyny is the “hatred or dislike of, or prejudice against, women”. Organisations such as Women’s Aid and Citizens UK have publicly supported this proposed development, arguing that women must be protected by hate crime legislation.
But not everyone agrees.
Professor of Law at the University of Swansea and author for The Critic, Andrew Tettenborn, opposes this change. In his recent article, “Misogyny is Not a Hate Crime”, Tettenborn emphasises that women are not a marginalised minority but half of the population. In fact, he states:
“There is no social problem of sex hatred equivalent to that of racial or religious hatred…True, there is a problem of discrimination, and undoubtedly in many cases women still end up short-changed. But while this may amply justify anti-discrimination laws, it provides no argument whatever for any stirring-up offence”.
I have several quandaries with this.
Firstly, whilst it is true women make up roughly 50% of the population, and are not considered a minority group, the fact that they should be able to benefit from the protection of hate crime laws should be indisputable. It is, not always but predominantly, women who are the victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and public sexual harassment. In 2017, the Crime Survey for England and Wales found that 20% of women and 4% of men have experienced some type of sexual assault since the age of 16. Thus, whilst sexual assault is not a crime exclusive to women, it must be acknowledged that there is an inherent power dynamic associated with these crimes that disproportionately affects women. Given the inherent differences between men and women, that can leave women susceptible to these crimes, arguably women need this protection; protection that could be given by misogyny being made a hate crime.
Secondly, Tettenborn fails to acknowledge the intersectional way in which race, religion and sex/gender coincide. In fact, a high proportion of women who have reported incidents of hate, described the motivation for this abuse as stemming from multiple, intersecting prejudices, such as islamophobia and misogyny. Therefore, if hate can be motivated by both religion and misogyny simultaneously, it follows that misogyny in itself should be classified as a hate crime, in the same way that religion is. As it currently stands, hate crime legislation is arbitrarily selective.
And thirdly, I’d like to understand exactly what Mr Tettenborn means when he declares that “in many cases women still end up short-changed”. Would he say that being a victim of rape or sexual assault is to be “short-changed”? This trivialisation indicates an obscene lack of understanding of many women’s experiences. In addition, it reveals his incomprehension of the differences between discrimination legislation and hate crime legislation. The difference is as follows:
Without access to hate crime legislation, the severity of the incidents these women face is overlooked and undermined.
What is more, Tettenborn believes that the law is an inappropriate tool for this kind of change and that making misogyny a hate crime could have a detrimental impact on freedom of speech. I strongly disagree.
Firstly, the law is an instrument for social change. Helen Voce, Nottingham Women’s Centre CEO, emphasised that, “misogyny is the soil in which violence against women grows”. She is right. If we are to eventually rid the world of female genital mutilation, rape, and violence against women, we must utilise the law to combat the root cause of these crimes: misogyny.
And secondly, making misogyny a hate crime will not infringe upon freedom of speech. Why? Because recording misogyny as a hate crime will not lead to men being “locked up” for wolf whistling, as the media has claimed. (Nonetheless, there is a strong argument that wolf whistling should be criminalised as public street harassment! Keep an eye out of another post about this in the future). In reality, misogynistic hate crimes are likely to include stalking, groping and indecent assault, crimes which surely warrant severe sanctions.
Ultimately, including misogyny within hate crime legislation is essential if we are to eradicate gender-based violence. As noted by the Campaign and Policy Manager at Women’s Aid, Lucy Hadley, "making clear that crimes happen to women 'because they are women' could help to send a clear message that women will be believed, protected and supported if they experience sexist violence and abuse”.
Labour MP for Walthamstow, Stella Creasy, has urged “every woman who has walked with keys in her hands at night, been abused or attacked online or offline to come forward and be heard” in the Law Commission’s consultation on hate crime legislation. She states:
"This is our moment for change - rather than asking women to pick a side of their identity to be protected, it's time to send a message that women should be equally able to live free from fear of assault or harm targeted at them simply for who they are."
The consultation is open until 24 December 2020. The Law Commission has asked to hear from those who have experienced various forms of hate crime, based on all types of characteristics. If you have been a victim of a crime that you believe to be motivated by misogyny, please use your voice and respond to this consultation here.