Emily Carver is Head of Media at the Institute of Economic Affairs.
Calls to make misogyny a hate crime are not new. But it is only now, following the Sarah Everard tragedy, that the Government has ceded to what were hitherto pretty leftfield demands.
From autumn 2021, police in England and Wales will be required “on an experimental basis” to record crimes of violence motivated by a person’s sex or gender. This has been heralded by feminist groups and prominent politicians such as Labour MP Stella Creasy as a “campaign win”. In their view, we are now one step closer to keeping women and girls safe from male-perpetrated violence.
While the law remains unchanged (for now the police will only be asked to collect data on such incidents), the Law Commission – whose review into current hate crime legislation is yet to be published – has already recommended that sex or gender-based “hostility” be added to the existing five characteristics protected in hate crime laws.
Given the emotionally-charged reporting and outpouring of public emotion we have seen in recent weeks, it seems likely that a government under immense pressure to “do something” will press ahead with expanding the definition of a hate crime into law.
Such a knee-jerk reaction would simply represent yet another example of ministers using legislation to appease single-issue activist groups without considering the possible unintended consequences.
It should worry us all that a Conservative government is even on board with the concept of a hate crime. Assault, criminal damage, harassment, murder and many other grievous offences are already crimes. Adding the complexity of motivation – which is often wholly subjective – means the law is no longer even-handed. Any person from a protected minority group can automatically demand a higher penalty purely based on their perception of motivation, which may or may not be accurate.
Furthermore, as we have seen with recent and increasing attempts to clamp down on offensive speech in Scotland, hate crime legislation creates a scenario in which thoughts and ideas are subject to the criminal law – an Orwellian overreach of state power that has no place in our liberal democracy.
And it won’t stop here – it never does. Demands that we expand the definition are growing: consider how the Greater Manchester Police reportedly include “alternative subculture groups” like goths, emos and punks in that increasingly nebulous group, “protected minorities”. Should verbally abusing someone who dresses as an emo really carry a higher penalty than abusing someone with no visible minority status?
Will it create a more tolerant society, one that shields those who someone, somewhere, believe need protection? Did anyone ask the punks what they think? Or are there simply no limits to increasing the burden on our police officers and criminal justice system?
As if this wasn’t bad enough, the water muddies further when it comes to including sex or gender in hate crime legislation. One would assume that hate crimes are there to protect minorities, but if an offence can be registered as a hate crime on the basis of a person’s sex or gender, in theory, any crime could be argued to be motivated by hate.
One has to ask whether the Stella Creasy’s of this world have considered that heterosexual white males could, in future, be victims of a hate crime. But if, as is likely, this legislation is designed to solely target misogyny, is it really a win for feminists? After all, giving women protected status would mean men and women are no longer deemed equal before law – a move that few would regard as progressive.
Despite years of campaigning for equality between the sexes, the direction of travel is moving firmly towards more policing of male and female interactions rather than less. The Prime Minister has already advocated such measures as the introduction of plain clothes police in bars and clubs to “protect women”, while madcap proposals to introduce a curfew for men were taken far more seriously than they ever should have been.
There is also a sad irony that many of those on the progressive left who have demanded that misogyny become a hate crime often have so little to say when it comes to less politically expedient issues, such as gender self-identification and the systematic abuse of under-aged girls at the hands of grooming gangs. They’re fixated on fashionable, woke causes that set women in reverse and the real frustration is that often these feminist warriors are in a position to influence and move the dial on the very real challenges we still face.
In the past year, we have grown accustomed to state involvement in almost every aspect of our lives. If the Government is serious about protecting women from male-perpetrated assault, they should concentrate on enforcing existing laws and making sure our criminal justice system is fit for purpose – last year just 3.6 per cent of reported sexual offences resulted in prosecution – rather than legislating according to whichever activist group shouts the loudest.