One UK County’s Success of Treating Sexism as a Hate Crime
In Nottinghamshire, a county in England, women say they walk taller since the local police included misogyny in their categorization of hate crime.
This year saw millions of women all over the world march for their rights, with allegations of rape and sexual harassment brought to light in both the White House and Westminster. But in Nottinghamshire, a county in the east midlands of England, women say they walk taller.
Since the local police force included misogyny in their categorization of hate crime over a year ago, 153 incidents and crimes have been recorded, leading to two arrests and one charge, Helen Voce, chief executive from Nottingham Women’s Centre told The Globe Post.
The center provided misogyny hate crime training to local police officers and staff, following the publication of the Nottingham Citizens No Place for Hate report in 2014. The report recommended work should be done to ensure crimes motivated by misogyny were recorded by police.
Police across England and Wales are set to vote on expanding their definition of hate crime to include either misogyny or gendered crime in October 2018, following the success of the initiative in Nottinghamshire.
The move would not create new crimes but acts as a flag so police can better understand incidents and their circumstances. It can also lead to longer sentences.
Police are increasingly responsive to violence against women and girls, with statistics from The Crown Prosecution Service illustrating an increase in prosecutions nationwide.
From 2012-2013 there was a total of 82,165 prosecutions, which increased to 112,270 trials in 2016-2017. The largest number of prosecutions – 117,568 – took place in 2015-2016.
Nottinghamshire police define misogyny as “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.” Authorities are recording incidents such as street harassment including wolf whistling, verbal abuse and taking photographs without consent, within the hate crime definition.
It also includes unwanted sexual advances, uninvited physical or verbal contact and using mobile phones to send unwanted messages.
The immediate success of the initiative garnered a positive response from local people, although Ms. Voce said she only had anecdotal evidence at this time.
“Knowing that the police will believe them, and will take action – women feel more confident,” she said. “Women are really using interesting terminology, saying things like ‘I feel like I walk taller’.”
Dave Alton, the hate crime manager for Nottingham police, told the Guardian the number of reports they receive is comparable with 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,” he said.
Ms. Voce noted that women often ignored street abuse in order to deescalate a situation, but the move had empowered them to report incidents and crimes and had gone towards combating victim-blaming, and feelings of guilt.
She had found 38 percent of women who took part in research for the initiative experienced misogyny hate crime.
“Race and disability was also a huge factor in abuse. Many women said they experienced abuse about their disability and their race because they were a woman.”
She said the portrayal in some sectors of the U.K. media that the move would criminalize wolf whistling or catcalling sought to trivialize the experiences of women.
Previous Nottingham Women’s Centre manager Melanie Jeffs and Nottingham Citizens head Lydia Rye were inundated with abuse from online trolls, after leading research for the No Place for Hate report, and Ms. Voce had also received abusive comments online.
“Some people do want to have a say, and particular men’s rights groups do come out of the woodwork. You often get all the vitriolic stuff.”
She said it was not from local people and was offset by the wealth of positive comments she received.
Rachel Krys, director of the End Violence Against Women coalition told The Globe Post that although the work done to combat misogyny in Nottinghamshire was admirable, there was still a lot to be done.
“We do think that the work the police have done is a great thing. They worked with local women’s services to get a good handle on the prevalence of sexual harassment [and] there previously hasn’t been an agreed way on reporting,” she said.
“Austerity has had a big effect on services for women. Rape crisis centers are closing their doors on women, there are a lot less services, and massive changes to legal aid system. That really matters and has a really big impact on justice. Women and victims hear those messages.”
Ms. Krys noted importance of increased awareness amongst police officers and first responders.
“It is good to see that conversation being had with other police services but we are not completely convinced it is the answer,“ she said.
Assistant chief constable Mark Hamilton told the Women and Equalities committee earlier this month he supported the move but the courts, the Crown Prosecution Service, and government would also have to implement change.
Ms. Krys also said the adversarial nature of the judicial system made it difficult to prosecute offenders and was difficult for victims.
“When victims have got support we have much better outcomes.”