Should Misogyny Be A Hate Crime?

As police seek to make catcalling illegal, columnist Lucy Vine asks whether it’s a step too far

woman walking alone

by Lucy Vine |
Updated on

In December 2022, the UK government's Law Commission concluded in its review into whether misogyny would be made a hate crime in the UK. The Hate Crime Laws: Final Report concluded that making misogyny a hate crime may be: 'more harmful than helpful, both to victims of violence against women and girls, and also to efforts to tackle hate crime more broadly' and that '…we have reached the view that hate crime recognition would not be an effective solution to the very real problem of violence, abuse and harassment of women and girls in England and Wales, and may in fact be counterproductive in some respects.'

So, what does that actually mean for us?

What does misogyny mean?

First of all, a definition of misogyny: the hatred of, aversion to, or prejudice against women according to Merriam-Webster, also**:** something (such as speech or behavior) that reflects and fosters misogyny.

What is a misogynistic hate crime?

Police defined it as ‘incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman, and includes behaviour targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman'. So, everything from catcalling to rape. The review into whether this should be a hate crime under the eyes of the law came after the Nottinghamshire Police force ran a very successful pilot scheme in summer 2016, launching more than 20 investigations into sexist abuse throughout July and August.

The issue deserved debate, of course. Should catcalling – something most women are so horribly, depressingly, wearily used to – technically be illegal? And with so much of the rest – the violence and abuse of women – already covered by law, and at a time when police resources are already so overstretched, is this the right use of resources and expertise? I can understand why the question was asked, but I personally think the answer should have been yes.

Why should misogyny be considered a hate crime?

There are three big, important reasons why I think this matters. Firstly, the miserable truth is that misogyny is not going away on its own. Violence against women and girls is currently at record levels – with one study showing that over 85% of women aged 18-24 have experienced unwanted sexual attention. Research published by the Women and Equalities Committee found that more than half of girls have experienced sexual harassment at school or college, with 71% saying they hear terms such as 'slut' or 'slag' regularly used.

Something really has to be done, and honestly I was grateful the police were even trying. Because that’s the second reason this reclassification should be important: it tells women that the police know their voice matters.

This isn’t really about making catcalling illegal, this is about putting the spotlight on misogyny and telling young girls and women that they don’t have to put up and shut up. Making misogyny a hate crime will make us braver. It would validate and legitimise the crawling fear we have when we’re walking home alone and see a group of men up ahead; that conflicted feeling in your stomach as you tell yourself it will be fine – and then wonder if you should take a different route home.

And the third reason is logistical. Right now, there are large gaps in the information we have on violence and abuse of women. Those facts I’ve talked about in my columns before – that two women are killed by a partner every week, almost a third have experienced domestic abuse – are all woefully underestimated. Recording the abuse of women as a hate crime will mean charities and police finally get to measure the scale of this problem.

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of women’s rights charity, The Fawcett Society, tells me: 'It is important that we recognise misogynistic hate crime for what it is. Early evidence from the Nottinghamshire pilot shows that the incidents that are being reported are not trivial but are crimes that require police intervention. By extending hate crime to include misogyny, women are encouraged to come forward and report serious offences. The clear message is that the police are taking these incidents seriously and that is very encouraging.'

So yes, I understand that it is difficult to see things like being shouted at in the street as important in the grand scheme of terrible things being done to women, but I do think even that does matter. Women will never be equal to men when we are objectified like that – treated like something to be laughed at and dismissed – told to get our tits out every day. We’ve got to shake off this attitude that things like that come with the everyday wallpaper of being a woman. That being born with a vagina means forever ignoring comments and aggression and harassment.

Making misogyny a hate crime tells women: we’re taking you seriously, we hear you, and you don’t have to put up with this shit. Forget PC gone mad, these are messages that women really, really need to hear.

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