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The rape and murder of Sarah Everard by policeman Wayne Couzens devastated the country and, rightfully, has put the question of making misogyny a hate crime back under the microscope. Discussions are now being had around how to address the horrific endemic violence committed against women and girls.
As more and more brutal crimes against women hit the headlines each day, there has been outrage that nothing is being done to address the issue at its root. Instead, there has been the rather shocking tone-deaf suggestion that women who believe they are in danger from a lone male cop should “flag down a bus” or “call 999.” Women have been told to become more “street-savvy.”
More street lights, CCTV and women’s self-defence classes have also been suggested. Yet, as End Violence Against Women Coalition’s, Deniz Uğur, the charity’s deputy director, said, these “piecemeal measures will not deter or stop perpetrators intent on targeting women.”
Elsewhere, others have suggested that making misogyny a hate crime within the legislative framework would help to address the crisis. This has been vocally rejected by the Prime Minister himself and those in the cabinet, but it appears that there is some resistance within the Conservative Party.
In the year ending March 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated 4.9 million women were survivors of sexual assault, including 1.4 million women who had been subjected to rape or attempted rape. In 98.5% of cases, the rapists were men.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales also found that a substantial amount of rape survivors never tell anyone they have survived rape or attempted rape. The statistics show that fewer than one in six report rape or attempted rape to police, even fewer women under the age of 25 reports (one in 10).
The top four reasons women don’t report rape or attempted rape to the police are as follows:
Elsewhere, an investigation from UN Women UK revealed some alarming statistics. Its figures showed that 97% of women between 18-24 had been sexually harassed. Nearly all the women who were subjected to sexual harassment (96%) did not report the crime believing that it wouldn’t change anything.
Since Sarah Everard was raped and murdered, according to research from Karen Ingala Smith at Counting Dead Women, at least 81 women have been killed by men.
As it stands, under the Equality act 2010, it is illegal to discriminate against an individual on the basis of their race, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, disability, religion and beliefs, pregnancy and maternity, or marriage/civil partnership status. That said, unlike crimes motivated by hatred against a race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity, crimes fuelled by misogyny, a hatred of women are not classified as hate crimes.
If misogyny were to be recognised as a hate crime, it would not suddenly make illegal things that aren’t already illegal. Instead, it would change the way that these crimes are recorded and make misogyny an aggravation in law. It has also been suggested that, more broadly, making misogyny a hate crime would make women more confident when reporting violence and send a message that violence against women is unacceptable and not tolerated.
In 2020, The Legal Journal reported that the Law Commission’s consultation into misogyny recommended that misogyny become a hate crime. Meanwhile, Nottinghamshire Police’s trialling of “misogyny hate crime” policy in 2016 proved effective resulting in “shifting attitudes.” An additional ten other police forces have adopted this since. So, there is increasing support, based on evidence, for misogyny to be recognised and treated as a hate crime.
MP Stella Creasy has led political efforts for misogyny to be recognised as such. Back in March, she urged the government to listen and introduce this as an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill.
Speaking to the BBC about the impact it could have, Labour MP Stella Creasy said: “You will have heard over the last four or five days an outpouring of stories from women about the abuse, harassment and violence they face. Most of it doesn’t get reported as they don’t believe it is going to be taken seriously.
She added: “In the police forces where they are already doing this, not only has it helped with detecting crime, it has also helped with confidence in police and changing the culture in the police about how the deal with violence against women.”
The response to proposals from political leaders has been disappointing, to say the very least. When speaking to BBC breakfast last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I think that what we should do is prosecute people for crimes that we have on the statute book. I think, to be perfectly frank, if you simply widen the scope of what you ask the police to do you’ll just increase the problem. What you need to do is get the police to focus on the very real crimes, the very real feeling of injustice and betrayal that many people feel.”
Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, who said his “number one priority” is to “make sure women feel confident in the justice system,” was clueless as to the meaning of misogyny. In his understanding, “insults and misogyny [are] absolutely wrong whether it’s a man against a woman or a woman against a man”. This man has also previously called feminists “obnoxious bigots” and complained that “from cradle to grave” it is men who have the “raw deal.”
It is unsurprising then that many women do not feel supported by the government or feel that any real change will ensue.
That said, some more positive reports are now circulating that Conservative peers and MPs are working against the PM’s stance and are pushing for misogyny to be considered a hate crime. The former victims’ commissioner and Conservative peer Helen Newlove is reportedly tabling an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is currently at the committee stage in the House of Lords (HoL). According to Newlove, the amendment has cross-party support.
Speaking about her feelings towards the statements made by the PM, Newlove said: “I was dismayed with it. Because at the end of the day, we need to fully understand how women feel. If the rhetoric is we’re going to have an inquiry for Sarah Everard, for the prime minister to dismiss [making misogyny a hate crime] is not really to have understood what happened to her. I’m disappointed and hopefully the government will start to listen.”
She added: “We are probing the government to listen, and hopefully they will take it onboard and they will accept it. This is not just one woman on a mission, we’ve got men also on the amendment who will stand up and say it’s much needed. I won’t give up and I’ll keep probing because it’s very important that we recognise this as a building block to make people feel safe.”
PM Boris Johnson has said that there is “abundant” existing legislation with which to tackle violence against women and girls, but clearly, it isn’t working, and many have lost faith in the justice system.
Moreover, in light of the rhetoric pushed forward by the country’s leaders and police forces, it is important to emphasise that women should not be pressured to change their behaviour to protect themselves. As Deniz Uğur from the End Violence Against Women Coalition says: “We need to finally see the focus shift to addressing the attitudes and behaviour of perpetrators.”
At the beginning of October, The Guardian published the data Karen Ingala Smith compiled on the number of women killed since Sarah Everard’s life was taken. These women are:
Sarah Geetika Goyal, Imogen Bohajczuk, Wenjing Xu, Karen McClean, Stacey Knell, Smita Mistry, Sammy Mills, Patricia Audsley, Phyllis Nelson, Klaudia Soltys, Simone Ambler, Emma McArthur, Sherrie Milnes, Constanta Bunea, Jacqueline Grant, Loretta Herman, Egle Vengaliene, Sally Metcalf, Sarah Keith, Peggy Wright, Charmaine O’Donnell, Michelle Cooper, Kerry Bradford, Julia James, Beth Aspey, Susan Booth,Mayra Zulfiqar, Maria Rawlings, Chenise Gregory, Agnes Akom, Wendy Cole, Caroline Crouch, Svetlana Mihalachi, Nicola Kirk, Unnamed woman, Agita Geslere, Lauren Wilson, Peninah Kabeba, Jill Hickery, Bethany Vincent, Esther Brown, Michaela Hall, Mildred Whitmore, Stacey Clay, Linda Hood, Marlene Coleman, Sophie Cartlidge, Gracie Spinks, Michelle Hibbert, Kim Dearden, Sally Poynton, Catherine Wardleworth, Sukhjit Badial, Elsie Pinder, Catherine Stewart, Ishrat Ahmed, Tamara Padi, Katie Brankin, Sandra Hughes, Beatrice Stoica, Pat Holland, Yordanos Brhane, Amanda Selby, Louise Kam, Malgorzata Lechanska, Megan Newborough,Diana Nichols, Maxine Davison, Kate Shepherd, Bella Nicandro, Eileen Barrott, Sharon Pickles, Helen Anderson, Jade Ward, Maddie Durdant-Hollamby,Fawziyah Javed, Ingrid Matthew, Sabina Nessa, Unnamed woman, Terri Harris, Sukhjeet Uppal.
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