A UK county police force has decided to categorize misogynist incidents as hate crimes, hoping that by doing so, more women will be encouraged to report harassment.
Today the Notthinghamshire Police force announced it will investigate abuses that might not ordinarily qualify as crimes—such street harassment, unwanted physical or verbal engagement, or taking photos without consent—and log these events as hate crimes. It is the first UK police force to do so.
The decision is the result of a plan made at the 2015 Nottinghamshire Safer for Women Conference that was hosted by the Nottinghamshire Police and the Nottingham Women's Centre, where, in a disturbing moment of irony, a BBC reporter was verbally harassed on camera while covering the conference.
The plan is also informed by a 2014 study that examined how Nottinghamshire citizens view hate crime. Inspired by the study's conclusion and working with the local women's group, the police force decided to overhaul how they defined hate crime. The new definition lists a hate crime as "simply any incident, which may or may not be deemed as a criminal offence, which is perceived by the victim or any other person, as being motivated by prejudice or hatred." Further, "misogyny hate crime" is defined as "incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman, and includes behaviour targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman."
In addition to the new definitions, the police force has implemented new policing policies, training packages, and communication strategies to help its employees recognize and handle cases involving misogyny.
What women face, often on a daily basis, is absolutely unacceptable.
In a press release, Nottinghamshire's Chief Constable Sue Fish said, "What women face, often on a daily basis, is absolutely unacceptable and can be extremely distressing. Nottinghamshire Police is committed to taking misogynistic hate crime seriously and encourages anyone who is affected by it to contact us without hesitation."
Nottinghamshire's new definition of hate crime differs greatly from that of the US. According to the FBI's website, a hate crime is a "criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity." While many forms of street harassment, such as stalking, are banned by state laws, the US has no general legislation that defines street harassment.
But while the Nottinghamshire decision might seem like a feminist victory, criminalizing street harassment is not the best way to solve street harassment in the US, says Emily May, executive director of the anti-harassment group Hollaback!
"Hollaback! does not endorse this kind of criminalization in the US, because typically when we have seen those laws, they are disproportionately used around low-income communities and and committees with people of color, places where we don't actually see a concentration of harassment," she tells Broadly. "We feel that using a broken criminal justice system for another broken system of street harassment doesn't solve anything. Plus, when you look at reporting of such incidents, and of even more severe things like rape, it is extremely low."
While other cultures do have empowering anti-harassment legislation, May says Hollaback!'s priority is promoting a cultural shift in the US.
"You really want to look at how to create cultural change and community accountability," she says. "That's where there's a missing link and a huge opportunity to look at how we get everyday people to stand up for each other, to change social norms so that we don't look other way when we see harassment. It's a tricky problem, a hard-to-measure problem, but ultimately that kind of work is where you really start to see change."