“Text me when you get home.” Six words which every woman living in the UK has received at some point in her life. It encompasses 21st century British life: where women are afraid to walk alone; where the police are the perpetrators, not the protectors; where male violence, driven by ingrained misogyny, is rife. And now, officially, it’s a society led by a man who refuses to accept such misogyny as a hate crime.
But it’s not just Boris Johnson failing to accept the severity of the situation. The justice secretary, Dominic Raab, a proud non-feminist—which, let’s be honest, makes you a bit of a dick—has previously complained about the “raw deal” men are getting. Ironically, in recent events, he’s making somewhat of a U-turn on his ideology saying it was his “number one priority to make sure women feel confident in the justice system.” It’s all bark and no bite. As per with the majority of politicians, they’ll save face with words, but when it comes to direct action against mole violence, well, let’s just say they don’t seem to be strong believers in the saying ‘actions speak louder than words’.
As David Lammy, the shadow Justice Secretary highlighted when speaking to The Independent, “The Tories have cut the justice system to the bone and left the victims of crime in limbo for years as a result. Women don’t have confidence in our justice system because our PM is treating victims of violence and sexual offences as an afterthought.”
When a crime is carried out against someone, it is only considered a hate crime if it is proven that it was because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity. Although there is no specific hate crime offence in England and Wales, when a crime falls into one of these specified categories it gives judges power to enhance sentencing powers, increasing the punishment of the crime as a result. Thus, in the wake of severe and common violence against women, it seems only logical to implement such measures to better enforce their safety—like considering misogyny as a hate crime.
Although Boris Johnson agreed that there “must be a radical change” on tracking sickening crimes like violence and rape, adding that “there is abundant statute that is not being properly enforced, and that’s what we need to focus on,” he refuses to clarify misogyny as a hate crime. This completely juxtaposes the voices of the very people he has a duty to protect. Countless women’s rights groups have long held the belief that making the act of misogyny an official hate crime would improve the way police deal with male violence. But why would a cisgender heterosexual white man who was educated at Eton College listen to what women have to say, right?
Heck, aside from the voices of women across the country, even the data backs up that this would be an effective measure. Pilot studies of the small number of police forces in England and Wales which recognise misogyny as a hate crime have seen a decline in cases of male violence. Likewise, as mentioned by Citizens UK, clarifying that misogyny is a hate crime would provide “critical data on the link between hostility to women and the abuse and harassment women experience.”
Campaign groups, such as the Women’s Equality Party have demanded immediate action: it’s blatant that violence against women and girls desperately needs to be addressed and that requires direct action from the government and police. They’re asking for the wellbeing of women and girls to be treated in the same matter of urgency as a threat to national security. But that hasn’t happened yet. Women are given “empty promises; worrying suggestions of extensions to police powers without proper accountability for police failings; and victim-blaming instructions to resist arrest from lone officers,” states Jenn Sebley in Glamour.
This isn’t just about criminal law: it’s a push to change the toxic culture we live in today—ingrained and normalised misogyny, which inadvertently shrinks the voices of victims and encourages male violence—as mentioned by Georgia Aspinall in Grazia, “It’s also about the cultural change taking this seriously generates and the message it sends perpetrators that hostility towards women will not be tolerated.”
So, in the wake of evidence and campaigners pushing for their voice to be heard, what was the Prime Minister’s response? Boris Jonson argues that “widening the scope” of what you ask the police to do would “just increase the problem”—referring to recent measures by Nottingham authorities to make cat calling and wolf whistling a misogynistic hate crime.
Understandably, his words have not been well received: they imply that our country’s leader does not believe misogynistic hate crimes to be ‘real’ offences worthy of legal justice. Recording the act of misogyny as a hate crime would give judges the ability to increase punishments around male violence, having a direct impact on the tangible repercussions for male violence. But it goes further than that: the act of making normalised misogynistic male behaviour, like catcalling, a hate crime would fundamentally send the message that it’s not okay; it would be both a legislative and cultural change.
According to Refuge, the overwhelming majority of domestic abuse cases are not prosecuted—even if they are reported by the police, very few cases end in conviction. The numbers speak for themselves: there were only 78,624 prosecutions and 60,160 convictions for domestic-abuse related crimes in the year ending March 2019. In that same year, 1.6 million women experienced domestic abuse and 1.32 million domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes were reported to police. Bear in mind, these shocking statistics were recorded before the COVID-19 lockdown resulted in a dramatic increase in domestic violence. This year, it’s reported that fewer than one in 60 rape cases recorded by the police resulted in a suspect being charged—a miserable rate of just 1.6 per cent. Meanwhile, men are 230 times more to be raped themselves than to be falsely accused of rape. You do the math here…
Ultimately, the sickening events of male violence which have unfolded over the last year—and indeed throughout history—needed desperately addressing. And for that to happen, the responsibility must be placed on men. We live in a culture where misogynistic acts are normalised: not only do we need a legislative shift but also a societal and cultural shift too. Sebly sums this up well, “One ‘bad ‘un’ (as Metropolitan police commissioner Cressida Dick put it) might now be serving a whole life sentence behind bars, but no length of time in prison can mitigate the societal failures that led to Sarah’s murder.”