by Dr Jennifer Rainbow, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Sheffield Hallam University
Following the outrage at the abduction and murder of Sarah Everard on the streets of London, the government has (finally) agreed to ask police forces to record crimes motivated by misogyny (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-56435550).
Let’s be clear on this. This is not that new: Nottinghamshire Police have been doing this since the then Chief Constable brought in the process in 2016. Other police forces followed suit. This change is rather an ‘experiment’ to try to generate coherent data across all police forces. On the face of it, this is marvellous – numerous organisations have been campaigning for this for years. BUT – and it’s a big but – although this is undoubtedly a step forward in terms of both recording practices and police identification of behaviours which can be interpreted by victims as misogyny, this does NOT make misogyny a hate crime.
Hate crime legislation is… interesting. There isn’t a hate crime law in and of itself – rather the Criminal Justice Act 2003 ss145 and 146 allow for more severe sentences to be imposed in instances where a crime is motivated by race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity. Changing recording practices will not affect this law. It could be argued that having more coherent statistics will help to make a difference. Well maybe, but why these statistics? We KNOW what the problems are in terms of violence against women and girls (problematic terminology in itself as this frames the violence around the victim, rather than focusing on the perpetrator). Knowing these statistics hasn’t made a big difference, so why will any more? Indeed, arguably issues of race, religion, disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity actually make the public and media pay LESS attention – outrage is most prominent for the violent misogyny of White Western women in comparison to Black and Ethnic Minority women – ‘misogynoir’ as it has been termed (Bailey and Trudy, 2018).
And finally, given the time at which this is happening – when many are questioning the degree to which we can trust the police, given the policing of the vigil for Sarah Everard (and the fact that a police officer has been charged with her murder…), and the long standing issues around reporting (and being believed) in cases of sexual and domestic abuse (see Decker, Holliday, Hameeduddin, Shah, Miller, Dantzler & Goodmark, 2019), perhaps giving the responsibility to deal with the issue of misogyny solely to the police isn’t exactly something to celebrate. Asking the police to record crimes as misogyny is all very well, but this once again places a responsibility upon the victim to recognise their experiences as misogyny in the first place – and in many cases, so ingrained within society is misogyny (Bates, 2021), we don’t.
Perhaps I’m just jaded (although I’m not the only one concerned about the effectiveness of this move). What worries me about this new policy, is that it could just be a tokenistic attempt to appease the masses at a time when we are angry (and let’s not be mistaken – we ARE angry). The announcement is also at a time when the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is under debate – there are not enough words in this blog for me to critique THAT piece of legislation to the degree it requires, but let’s just say some of the impingements on freedoms and rights are downright terrifying. There are so many policies in flux right now that it is difficult to focus on which ones we need to look at more closely (all of them, I’m afraid). With regard to this policy? Although a brilliant ‘quick win’ in terms of acknowledging the problem (although again, arguably the problem is not the lack of data, it is the culture of misogyny that we live and die in), we need to wait before celebrating – it may just be another set of statistics to tell us what we already know.
Bailey, M., & Trudy. (2018). On misogynoir: Citation, erasure, and plagiarism. Feminist Media Studies, 18(4), 762-768.
Bates, L. (2021). Men Who Hate Women: From Incels to Pickup Artists: The Truth about Extreme Misogyny and How it Affects Us All. Sourcebooks, Inc..
Decker, M. R., Holliday, C. N., Hameeduddin, Z., Shah, R., Miller, J., Dantzler, J., & Goodmark, L. (2019). “You do not think of me as a human being”: Race and gender inequities intersect to discourage police reporting of violence against women. Journal of urban health, 96(5), 772-783.