Last summer, Stella Creasy MP again challenged hate crime legislation. This requires some contextualisation.

A ‘Hate crime’ is defined as an offence: ‘motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity’.

These attributes are called protected characteristics. The hate crimes motivated by them are recorded as such. However, female sex does not figure among protected characteristics. Because of this, the precise number of crimes driven by hostility towards women remains unknown but can be as high as 57,000 incidents in a given year.


Female Sex as a protected characteristic

This is what Creasy wants to change: adding female sex to the list of characteristics to record and illuminate the number of offences committed against women and motivated by contempt for them. Parliament voted to trial the policy from October 2021. More recently, however, the Metropolitan Police opposed it, arguing that the ‘proposal may only add to the bureaucracy of crime reporting’.

Recording the crimes that deliberately target women shouldn’t create more paperwork, argues Creasy. How come? Because ‘[n]othing that isn’t already a crime is being proposed […] No new crimes are being created here, this is about recognising the motivation behind the crimes that [women] experience’ and recording them as driven by the victim’s female sex where relevant.

Wolf-whistling already counts as public harassment. Online abuse, which affects women ‘every 30 seconds on Twitter’ alone is an offence under the Malicious Communications Act 1988.

Since they are already recordable crimes, documenting these common abuses under the category of ‘Hate Crime’ would consume no more time but improve the tracing and prevention of them.

While (cis)gender is thought to be the basis for most hate crimes reported by women, many of these are currently attributed to other protected characteristics. Therefore, if we were to document those instances of hate crime that were motivated by the victim being female, a significant number of them would have been treated under the generic umbrella of hate crimes anyway. Recording them as motivated by a different, and more accurate, characteristic would only enhance understanding rather than consume time.

Treating misogyny as a hate crime

Crimes ‘motivated by hostility or prejudice’ against women constitute crimes motivated by misogyny; meaning, we would treat misogyny as a hate crime. ‘Misogyny’ can broadly be defined as ‘hatred or prejudice towards women’. Subsequently, some people fear that treating misogyny as a hate crime amounts to ‘thought crime‘. However, misogynistic thoughts would not be policed. Treating misogyny as a hate crime means identifying crimes that consciously and deliberately target women. While not everything said and done is an act of misogyny, many crimes require a woman victim and the presence of female anatomy. These include female genital mutilation, rape threats, sexual assaults, so-called ‘honour’ killings, upskirting, and the growing concern of incels. These sorts of crimes would be recorded as misogynist-driven as they could only be committed against women. Campaigners urgently want the most severe of these crimes to carry an aggravated sentence for misogyny.

August vigil, Walthamstow. Held for Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry who were murdered in a park during lockdown.
August vigil, Walthamstow. Held for Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry who were murdered in a park during lockdown.

The UK Police employs ‘Violence Against Women and Girls’ (VAWG) officers to tackle the abuses disproportionately affecting women. The force recognises that: ‘[v]iolence against women and girls is about power and control of women’s behaviour and sexual agency’.

VAWG strategy clearly recognises that being a woman drives violence against you. But despite female sex being acknowledged as a crime motivator in VAWG strategy, this does not extend to wider legislation — and this discrepancy needs addressing.

For clarity, I didn’t reveal that ‘hate crime’ is defined as a ‘criminal offence which is perceived to be motivated by’ at least one of the protected characteristics. If female sex were added to the list, a victim can claim it as the motivation for an offence. The defendant is then free to challenge the aggravating factor of misogyny along with the core charge. The examples of crimes already cited are clearly misogynist in motivation. Other incidents, such as online or domestic abuse, may be more ambiguous. In such cases, a discussion takes place in court to determine the truth. If, and only ‘if it could be proved’ can the misogynist motivation aggravate a sentence. The requirement to prove the crime’s misogynist grounds would prevent claimants from abusing the policy.

An identical procedure is in place for homophobic and racially motivated offences. This brings us to a vital point: ‘a hate crime is a hate crime except when it comes to women’ and ‘for too long we have accepted violence against women as a fact of life. It doesn’t have to be’.

Why are women expected to tolerate crimes that deliberately target them while other liberation groups are not? Treating misogyny as a hate crime would enable us to address this shortcoming and make it clear that abusing women has consequences.

Men can also be deliberately targeted in crimes such as date raping. Adding biological sex to the list of protected characteristics would protect the sexes equally in hate crime legislation.

Maybe the Metropolitan Police should worry more about the many hate crimes against women rather than any extra time spent recording them.