Backbench Labour MP Stella Creasy, who is currently on maternity leave, has renewed efforts in the campaign to make misogyny a hate crime by hosting an event in parliament this afternoon on that subject.
The policy was included in Labour’s 2019 manifesto, and the initiative received a boost ahead of International Women’s Day on Sunday when London mayor Sadiq Khan joined calls for misogyny to be recognised as a hate crime.
During the panel discussion in parliament, host Creasy expressed appreciation for the support of Khan – calling it “a really powerful thing” – but said she now expected the “backlash against this change to be even stronger”.
In September 2018, the MP for Walthamstow put forward an amendment to the Upskirting Bill that would have added misogyny as an aggravating factor. But she later withdrew the proposal in response to the government announcing a comprehensive review of hate crime legislation.
Nadia Whittome, the new 23-year-old MP for Nottingham East, also spoke at the event in parliament and talked about how Nottinghamshire Police in 2016 became the first police force in the country to allow women and girls to report cases of abuse and harassment as misogyny.
The misogyny hate crime policy in Nottinghamshire “happened not as a result of bureaucratic means”, Whittome told attendees, but because women were “coming together from all different backgrounds” and “sharing their experiences”.
The Labour MP was critical of the initial response from the police, explaining: “The police didn’t just come on board with this… whilst they’ve come a long way and they’ve had training, that’s been an uphill struggle.”
She argued that BAME women are “disproportionately impacted” but also face particularly difficult decisions in terms of reporting such crimes when they are committed by members of their own community.
“They know the police don’t treat our community well,” Whittome said, “so they have to weigh up – is it more important that I was assaulted, or is it more important that the perpetrator might be treated unfairly?”
The Law Commission is currently undertaking a review of hate crime legislation, which will assess whether the legislation should be extended to other characteristics and how this should be implemented if so.
Representing the Commission at the event, Penney Lewis said the consultation is scheduled to start in May and will take place over three months. They are aiming to publish a report in 2021 including recommendations.
There is no guarantee that these recommendations would become law, Lewis acknowledged, but the commissioner added: “But we don’t embark on a project unless the relevant government department has indicated a serious intention to take forward legislation in the area.”
Reflecting on this comment, Creasy asked whether it would be best for campaigners and supportive MPs to wait until the outcome of the review was known or to table amendments to legislation earlier.
In response, Lewis warned: “It might be that an attempt to simply add gender or women as a protected characteristic would have to be revisited if the government were minded to legislate on hate crime more broadly, which obviously is what we’re hoping because they commissioned a root-and-branch review from us.”
“I can certainly understand taking one’s opportunities where one sees them, but I think there’s an advantage here to waiting and trying to achieve something that is much greater than one protected characteristic being slotted into a framework that has other issues.”
Sam Smethers of the Fawcett Society, who was also a panellist, said there was a need to “do both”, while Creasy argued that while the commission was ongoing there should be a focus on “changing the hearts and minds of our police force” and enacting “cultural change”.
Gemma and Maya Tutton, from the campaign Our Streets Now to make street harassment illegal in the UK, contributed to the discussion. They have started a petition and collected over 200,000 signatures so far.
They said that while those who experienced street harassment could technically report being intimidated in a public space under the Public Order Act, their team had not found a single case of the law being used to that effect.
Making the case that such harassment was therefore not in effect illegal, Tutton said: “We’ve spoken to police officers who have said to us, ‘It doesn’t even occur to me to use the Public Order Act because that’s not what it is intended for’.”
Attendees also raised concerns about the potential for backlash against a misogyny law, which Creasy dubbed the “Laurence Fox effect” whereby “the more you talk about being woke… it can make people double down”.
Responding to a point about institutional misogyny in the police force, Creasy pointed out that Cressida Dick – commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service in London – had “spoken out against” making misogyny a hate crime.
Dick “thinks it would be too much work”, Creasy said, despite street harassment being “in theory already a crime” and “the legislation that is supposed to deal with this… police like Cressida Dick are supposed to be implementing”.
Creasy added: “Nobody is talking about criminalising something that isn’t already in theory a criminal act. It’s just that we’re talking about calling the source of it what it is.. It is partly about making a law that can’t be ignored.”
On the importance of lobbying Cressida Dick, the Labour MP for Walthamstow said: “If a top female police officer is saying, ‘We can’t be dealing with this’, that’s a very big barrier to get over.”