A coalition of women’s rights campaigners have voiced their disappointment and frustration after the Law Commission decided to reject a proposal to make misogyny a hate crime.
The commission, an independent body that recommends legal changes, launched a consultation but concluded that the move would not solve the “real problem” of hostility or prejudice directed against women because of their sex or gender.
Instead, in a report published on Tuesday, it recommends that the government consider introducing a specific offence to tackle public sexual harassment, which it claims would be more effective.
It also proposes extending the existing offence of stirring up hatred to doing so on the grounds of sex and gender, saying this would help tackle “the growing threat of ‘incel’ [involuntary celibate] ideology, and its potential to lead to serious criminal offending”.
But a statement by 20 leading women’s rights and hate crime organisations and campaigners including the Fawcett Society, Citizens UK, Stella Creasy MP, Rights of Women and the former constable of Nottinghamshire police, Sue Fish, said the Law Commission had failed to address “widespread concerns about lack of action by the criminal justice system” and vowed to keep fighting.
They said: “The commission’s review is too narrow and doesn’t recognise the value of including misogyny to enable recording of incidents, which are currently invisible. By not joining together hate crime legislation, it especially ignores the experiences of women from minority communities who experience hatred based on multiple factors yet all too often are let down by the criminal justice system because they do not fit their tick boxes.
“This report must not be used by the government to kick action on violence against women and girls into the long grass and instead should support proposals for legislation now, including urgently rolling out the recording of misogynist crimes to all police forces. Women and girls have waited too long to be equally protected and will continue to fight for this.”
The commission suggested sex or gender should become a protected characteristic for the purpose of hate crime – alongside race, religion, trans identity, sexual orientation and disability – in September last year, opening the idea up to consultation. It followed a successful pilot scheme in Nottinghamshire.
In the intervening months, there has been increased focus on hostility routinely directed at women, including the murder of the sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman. In the wake of the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met police officer, hundreds of women shared their experiences of feeling unsafe walking home.
But in October Boris Johnson rejected the idea that misogyny should be a hate crime, saying, “If you simply widen the scope of what you ask the police to do, you’ll just increase the problem.” The justice secretary, Dominic Raab, also dismissed the suggestion while appearing confused about the meaning of misogyny, suggesting it could apply to the abuse of women or men.
In a summary of its report, the Law Commission said: “We recognise that many people may disagree with our conclusion and find it difficult to understand given the prevalence of sex- and gender-based violence and abuse. We have made our recommendations in this regard on the strength of the evidence and policy considerations before us. While attractive on the surface, we do not believe that making misogyny a hate crime will provide tangible results in the way that many campaigners have suggested.”
The commission said adding sex or gender to hate crime laws, thereby creating new aggravated offences, would be unlikely to capture much public sexual harassment as it would still struggle to meet thresholds for prosecution. It also said it could add complexity to rape and domestic abuse prosecutions, making it more difficult to secure convictions and create unhelpful “hierarchies of victims”.
Anna Birley, an organiser at Reclaim These Streets, which organised the Clapham Common vigil for Everard before it was banned by police, said women deserved “full and equal protection”, and making misogyny a hate crime “crucially … allows police to identify problem areas and perpetrators and intervene to prevent serious violence and abuse taking place”.
After Everard’s murder, the government ordered police forces to collect data on crimes apparently motivated by hostility towards women, but the National Police Chiefs’ Council has said it is still awaiting Home Office guidance about how the recording should be done.
The attempt to challenge incel culture comes after Jake Davison shot dead five people in Plymouth in August, before killing himself, having previously used incel forums and referenced the movement in online posts.
The Home Office said it would respond to the Law Commission’s recommendations in due course.