"We've all agreed for a long time that it's not okay for someone to shout homophobic or Islamophobic abuse at someone. So why is it okay to shout misogynistic abuse at a woman or behave towards her in a way that makes her feel threatened and impacts upon her ability to lead a normal life?"
Melanie Jeffs is explaining the rationale behind why misogyny should be categorized as a specific hate crime by police. Jeffs, a Nottingham-based feminist campaigner, was instrumental in persuading police in the city to designate misogyny as a hate crime—a national first.
Now, nearly two months after Nottinghamshire Police announced the move, police forces across the country are hoping to emulate their success. The Guardian reports that police forces in England and Wales have confirmed they'll be speaking with their Nottingham colleagues—led by Chief Constable Sue Fish—to discuss the experiment and how they might introduce it in their areas.
It's worth emphasizing that while Nottingham Police now designate misogyny as a hate crime, the existing laws remain the same as no police force can change legislation. However, much of the misogynistic abuse reported to police does constitute crimes under existing laws. A police spokesperson confirmed to Broadly that 21 incidents have been recorded since the change was introduced: of those, seven were deemed to be criminal, including one sexual assault and three public order offences.
In a week that has seen violence against women and girls reach unprecedented levels, feminist campaigners have welcomed today's news. "What's happened in Nottingham is very significant," says Sarah Green of the End Violence Against Women coalition. "If—as Nottingham has done—a police force has spoken to a local community and uncovered that this is a problem and taken action, then other police forces should heed that example."
Should other police forces adopt the approach, one of the major challenges will be to train individual officers. "We've tried to personalize the training we offer police officers, and it's vital to have the voices of the female victims of misogynistic abuse involved," explains Dr Loretta Trickett. The criminologist, who specializees in gender-based hate crime, helped Nottinghamshire police to devise their approach.
I ask why we need to re-categorise misognyny as a hate crime. After all, many of the incidents reported to Nottingham Police are already covered by existing laws. "If we don't [recognize misogyny as a hate crime], we legitimize a view of women being objectified; usually by strange men in the street, and treated in a sexualized way. It reinforces this worldview that regards women as public property, as well as underpinning much of the abuse women receive online, as well as sexual and domestic violence."
Trickett cites research showing girls are exposed to sexualized behavior as young as age eleven. "That sends a clear message to me that this problem is out of control. We're talking about middle-aged men shouting sexual comments at young women and girls, and the impact of that on their feelings of safety and of the world being a hostile, dangerous place."
Jeffs—who attracted online abuse as a result of her involvement in the Nottinghamshire Pilot—talks me through today's figures. "The numbers we've had through from Nottingham Police are comparable with other forms of hate crime, such as homophobia." She emphasizes that, historically, hate crimes are underreported to police.
I ask what women should do if they feel they've been the victims of misogynistic abuse. "All of the cases that Nottingham Police have received could have been reported to other police forces under existing laws," she responds. "So if you're in an emergency situation, call 999, and if not then the normal number to report crime, which is 101."
Ultimately, Jeff argues, the Nottingham pilot gives women in the city the "confidence to come forward and expect the police to take this seriously." But, as Trickett explains, the problem is much bigger than one police force or one city—however well intentioned—can solve.
"The overall picture of violence, misogyny and harassment against women and girls still hasn't been tackled effectively by the government. We still aren't addressing the root causes."