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Misogyny should be made a hate crime to protect women, Law Commission says

Changes would see gender or sex added to list of ‘protected characteristics’ in law

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 23 September 2020 06:17 BST
It shouldn’t have taken something like this for me to realise how pervasive and damaging the mistreatment of women is. Who knows how many more women, blinded by internalised misogyny, are in the dark?
It shouldn’t have taken something like this for me to realise how pervasive and damaging the mistreatment of women is. Who knows how many more women, blinded by internalised misogyny, are in the dark?

Misogyny should be made a hate crime to protect women and ensure offenders are properly punished, the government has been told.

The Law Commission, an independent body that recommends reforms in England and Wales, said sex or gender should be made a “protected characteristic” for legal purposes.

The current characteristics are race, religion, disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity.

If crimes such as assault or harassment are motivated by hostility towards those groups, sentences can be increased and the offence is classed as a hate crime.

Several prominent politicians, including the London mayor Sadiq Khan and Labour MP Stella Creasy have already called for misogyny to be classified in the same way.

But when the Law Commission announced it was looking at the issue in 2018, there was opposition from some senior police officers.

Sara Thornton, who was then chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), said at the time: “I want us to solve more burglaries and bear down on violence before we make more records of incidents that are not crimes.

“I hope that the Law Commission’s review on hate crime takes account of the pressure on forces before suggesting the law is changed.”

But campaigners have long argued that classing misogyny as a hate crime would help tackle the “root causes” of violence against women and map the true scale of harassment.

The Law Commission said it had primarily received evidence of crimes linked to hatred of women, but would consult further on whether the protection should cover discrimination based on any sex.

The body said it as looking at what impact the change would have on sex offences and domestic abuse, where there are well-established laws and practices, to avoid the “risk of unintended consequences”.

Sadiq Khan calls for misogyny to be recognised as hate crime

A wider review concluded that formal criteria should be established for assessing what characteristics to bring under hate crime law.

The Law Commission is consulting on the proposals for misogyny, as well as whether hate crime laws should include characteristics including age, sex workers, homelessness, alternative subcultures and philosophical beliefs.

It said that the current five categories were not being protected by “complex and overlapping” laws, and that changes should be made to level the response.

The review found that the numerous offences used to prosecute hate crime, such as stirring up racial hatred, stirring up hatred on the basis of religion or sexual orientation and the “aggravation” of other crimes made them too complex and hard to understand.

The Law Commission said that laws were not used consistently, and that LGBT and disabled people were not being properly protected.  

It also called for the offence of stirring up hatred to focus on “deliberate incitement” in order to provide greater protection for freedom of speech where no intent can be proven.

The commission said the law used to punish football fans for racist chanting should be extended to cover homophobia and other behaviour, such as gestures and throwing missiles at players.

Professor Penney Lewis, the criminal law commissioner, said: “Hate crime has no place in our society and we have seen the terrible impact that it can have on victims.

“Our proposals will ensure all protected characteristics are treated in the same way, and that women enjoy hate crime protection for the first time.”

The consultation will run until Christmas and the responses will inform final recommendations due to be made to the government next year. 

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