Criminals in the U.K. who are evidently “motivated by sexism” are likely to face increased prison sentences, as British police review proposals to make sexism, misogyny, a “hate crime” throughout the country. The new plans are believed to be a response to the surge in sexual harassment claims against prominent politicians and celebrities over recent weeks.
The London Metropolitan Police Force announced that it is in discussion with other British police forces as to whether it is necessary to crack down on “gender-based hate crimes”, following the launch of a test scheme in central England in 2016.
There are already five categories of offense that are classified as a hate crime in the U.K., with sexism or “misogyny” currently being discussed as the sixth strand. If agreed by politicians, criminals who act “out of hatred toward women” will be given harsher jail sentences. This would mean that “sexist behavior or language” would be regarded as an aggravating factor in other crimes such as assault and harassment — including online harassment. However, “sexist behavior and language” — like “online harassment” and “trolling” — are very loosely defined concepts. The majority of arrests for offensive online comments in the U.K. do not even make it to court.
Since 2016, a so-called pilot program has been running in Nottingham, England, which is soon expected to provide results to police chiefs in London. Senior officers will then consider whether the new misogyny hate crime regulations should be applied across the country. The pilot scheme allowed police to record sexism incidents, such as street harassment — including “wolf-whistling”; verbal abuse and “taking photos without consent”, as hate crimes, meaning they carry tougher sentences for offenders. It is not yet clear whether male journalists can now be prosecuted by Nottinghamshire Police for taking photos of women without their consent.
There was an immediate surge in the number of women reporting “misogynistic hate crimes” to police in the first few months of the program, according to reports. Police revealed that a case of misogyny was reported every three days during July and August this year.
Conservative critics have claimed that radical feminism is seeping its way out of the universities and into the British legal system, but police say they believe criminalizing “misogynistic remarks” will help lower sexual violence overall.
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, who leads the program on hate crime for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, told the U.K. Women and Equalities Committee on Wednesday:
“You would take any offense that the person reported and if it reached the evidential standard and had been reported as a hate crime then it would attract an enhanced sentence.” Mr. Hamilton explained: “It’s not about a new ‘crime of hate’, it’s about adding another category to the enhanced process that layers on top of an offense when it occurs.”
“Sexual harassment of a woman or a girl at a bus stop by a male might be some things that some women feel they are just going to have to accept, that no one’s going to do anything about it,” he said. “The debate in policing now is moving much more to identify those issues in the same way as we would other types of incident or crime, establishing if a crime has been committed or not.”
In the U.K., a hate crime is regarded as any incident in which a person is targeted because of their identity — namely race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability — with gender widely expected to be added to the list following the Nottingham pilot program. A hate crime “can take any shape and is not always illegal behavior”, police officers say.
80,393 hate crimes were recorded in the country from 2016 to 2017, up by 62,518 from the previous year — the highest annual rise since the government began recording incidents in 2011.