By Lara Bryant
TW: sexual assault and violence against women
In October 2021, the British Government decided against making misogyny a classified hate crime, despite promising to do so earlier on in the year. Many have campaigned against this decision including work from Stella Creasy, Labour MP, who has urged for amendments to the Domestic Violence Bill.
Violence against women, be it domestic violence, street violence, or other kinds, has been rapidly on the rise over the past few months and years. A poll conducted by YouGov and the End Violence Against Women Coalition found that 64% of all women of all ages have experienced unwanted sexual harassment and abuse in public places at some point in the UK. A further 1.6 million women of ages 16-74 experienced domestic abuse in 2019/2020.
We only need to take a look at the recent deaths of Sarah Everard in March 2021 and Sabina Nessa in September 2021 to see these crimes. These attacks on women are rooted in the sexism and misogyny that still clearly exists in today’s society. Misogyny is the dislike, hatred for and prejudice against women and these are all clearly presented in these ruthless attacks on women, so frequently conducted by men.
Should misogyny be classed as a hate crime?
Since the death of Sarah Everard, many, including MPs, have campaigned to make misogyny a hate crime to criminalise these attacks and seek justice for the victims.
When a crime is committed against someone because of prejudice towards their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or another identifier, it is considered a hate crime. Campaigners from Women’s Aid and Refuge have been fighting to have gender and sex added onto that list. And why shouldn’t it? We live in a society where sexism is accepted and women are subjected to inappropriate harassment and abuse from men who think it is their right to do so.
There is a current epidemic of violence against women who frequently feel uncomfortable reporting such incidents to the police for fear of nothing being done. Making misogyny a hate crime has the potential to make a huge positive impact to remedy this culture of disbelief. This was seen during the summer of 2021 when the Government instructed police forces across the UK to start recording violent crimes motivated by gender or sex on an experimental trial basis. Hailed a victory by The Fawcett Society, this step has supported women to come forward with stories of harassment and assault which had left them living in fear.
Making misogyny a hate crime will help combat these issues of gendered crimes not being reported or recorded. It will also send an important and long-awaited message that misogyny is not acceptable in any society and this behaviour should be classified alongside hate crimes.
Why is there no law?
Unfortunately, there is still no law deeming misogyny a hate crime and the debate on the topic is a complex one. Former equalities minister, Victoria Atkins, speaking in a debate in 2018, claimed that “if we were to have a hate crime in relation to gender, we would have to think carefully about whether that would apply to the entire population or just half of it”. Furthermore, John Szepietowski from Audley Chaucer Solicitors told the BBC that critics fear it would become “too broad a category” and some perpetrators would even aim to wear it as a “badge of honour”.
British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has also given his opinion on the matter stating that “by widening the scope of what you ask the police to do, you will just increase the problem” and that there is already “abundant existing legislation to tackle violence against women and girls”. The PM has recently been dodging questions about why he has backtracked on the Government’s announcement that misogyny would be made a hate crime back in March 2021.
Not enough is being done despite the proof that making misogyny a hate crime would benefit most, if not all women. The Prime Minister dodging queries on the matter and lack of progress on this presents how far down on the agenda these critical issues are which is an insult to all women.
The rise of Incel violence against women
Without legislation, making misogyny illegal, hateful and abusive attacks against women will only continue and without formal recognition. One of these consequences is the rising attacks on women by Incel groups.
Incels (“involuntarily celibate”) are an online community of men linked to misogynistic violence across the globe. These men express hate towards women and feel an unfulfilled sense of entitlement to sex that they believe women are withholding from them. Although it is impossible to call the whole group violent, there are some members who will glorify violence against women as a way of “getting back” what they believe is rightly theirs.
Some examples of this violence that can be linked to incels is the Plymouth shootings by Jake Davidson in August 2021. Prior to the attack, Davidson expressed misogynistic views online within incel forums and claimed that sexual assaults were justified because “women don’t need men anymore”. Five lives were lost due to this tragic incident, including Davidson’s mother.
Similarly, the 2014 shootings in Isla Vista, California by Elliot Rodger has been linked to incel terrorism. Rodger, 22, killed six people after leaving a message saying he was dissatisfied with his life because he had failed to form a relationship with a woman – and that in turn had led him to hate couples around him.
Another example is Tres Genco, from Ohio, who was charged with plotting a mass shooting that targeted women in July 2021. Finally, Alek Minassian, who killed 10 people in Toronto, Canada, told police that his attack had been inspired by incel ideas and, subsequently, the Canadian authorities concluded the incel movement a form of violent extremism.
These extreme examples of incel violence will only increase on a global level if misogyny isn’t classified as a hate crime. The Government’s decision not to do so will have rippling consequences for women. Such a classification has the potential to facilitate more women in reporting incidents with greater recognition of gender violence. Although there can be distrust in the police and general institutional misogyny, classifying misogyny as a hate crime can help boost reporting rates.
A survey conducted by Citizens UK showed that over six in ten victims of hate crime, including gender hate crime, never reported any crimes they experienced. But, Lucy Hadley from Women’s Aid, claims the importance of recognising that women are victims of these crimes purely “because they are women” and with this recognition comes the belief that women will be “believed, protected and supported” if they report these crimes.
Report and conviction rates for rape in England and Wales are already so low that victims Commissioner Dame Vera Baird wrote in the annual report that “what we are witnessing is the de-criminalisation of rape”. Incidents will continue to go unreported and perpetrators will continue to go unconvicted if something isn’t done. Making misogyny a hate crime is a step to dealing with the violence against women, by groups such as the incel community, which is only increasing in our society.