Boris Johnson has ruled out making misogyny a hate crime, arguing it would overload the justice system and make the fight against rape and domestic violence harder.
The prime minister said he wanted the justice system to “enforce the existing laws” rather than introduce any new ones.
Asked whether the government was taking misogyny seriously enough, Mr Raab told BBC Breakfast: “So I think insults, and of course misogyny, is absolutely wrong – whether it’s a man against a woman, or a woman against a man.”
Presenter Sally Nugent challenged Mr Raab’s remarks: “You said misogyny is absolutely wrong whether it’s a man against a woman or a woman against a man – is that what you meant to say?”
Mr Raab responded: “What I meant was, if we are talking about things below the level of public order offences of harassment, intimidation, which are rightly criminalised – if we are talking about, effectively, insults with a sexist basis – I don’t think that criminalising those sorts of things will deal with the problem that we have got at the heart of the Sarah Everard case.”
The justice secretary also argued that there was no point in “trying to legislate away what is an enforcement problem”.
He added: “Just criminalising insulting language – even if it’s misogynistic – does not deal with the intimidation, the violence and the much higher level of offence and damage and harm that we really ought to be laser-like focused in on.”
Among the many people mocking Mr Raab online after he appeared to suggest misogyny could be directed against a man was former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal. He tweeted: “If you don’t know what misogyny is then you’re never going to find it.”
The Lib Dems’ equalities spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said: “It’s little wonder the Conservatives are failing to tackle misogyny when their justice secretary doesn’t even seem to know what it is.”
Mr Raab also rejected criticism over the Sarah Everard inquiry after MPs, campaigners and legal groups raised concerns that it is not on a statutory footing – meaning that it will rely on voluntary cooperation from the Metropolitan Police and cannot compel witnesses to give evidence.
The justice secretary claimed witnesses would co-operate with the inquiry into the “systematic failures” that allowed Sarah Everard’s killer to be employed as a police officer.
Mr Raab told Sky News that, “we are not going to have a problem getting to the truth of this”, and said he was confident police officers would co-operate with the review into murderer Wayne Couzens’ actions.
Asked by LBC whether an inquiry without powers to compel witnesses would get to the bottom of the case, he said: “We’ve had inquiries [without statutory powers] that have got to the truth.”
Arguing that the public want “swift action”, the minister added: “A statutory inquiry would be much more long and drawn-out”.
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