Extreme misogyny and the so-called “incel” community is a threat to women, and the men involved must be identified, a former chief prosecutor has warned.
Social media use by gunman Jake Davison, who killed five people in Plymouth before turning the weapon on himself, showed he appeared to have an interest in the “involuntary celibate”, or incel, culture.
The misogynistic ideology has amassed a following online among some men who feel they are being oppressed by women due to a perceived lack of sexual interest.
It has prompted a discussion over whether or not incel violence should be treated as a hate crime, with experts disagreeing on the way forward.
What does incel mean?
The abbreviation ‘incel’ is used online for “involuntarily celibate”, pertaining to mostly males who believe they will forever be unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one.
Incels often blame the ills of society for their plight, and find themselves angry at the world - and women in particular for their lack of interest from the opposite sex, despite their best efforts.
Incel culture has been associated with killings and acts of violence, particularly in the US.
In 2014, Elliot Rodger, 22, killed six people in a stabbing and shooting spree in Isla Vista, California.
Before the rampage, Rodger reportedly uploaded a YouTube video outlining his motives for the attack as revenge on women for rejecting him and as a result is described as becoming the spiritual figurehead of the incel movement.
Last month, Tres Genco, a 21-year-old from Ohio who described himself as an “incel”, was charged with plotting a mass shooting targeting women in university sororities.
Announcing the charge against Genco, the US Justice Department said: “The incel movement is an online community of predominantly men who harbour anger towards women. Incels advocate violence in support of their belief that women unjustly deny them sexual or romantic attention to which they believe they are entitled.”
‘How many of them are a threat?’
Former chief crown prosecutor for the North West Nazir Afzal told BBC Breakfast on Saturday there were 10,000 people with incel views like Davison in the country.
He said: “How many of them, a small minority, are a threat?
“We have to recognise that we have a responsibility to identify them and share that information.”
Afzal added: “We have now seen posts on various social media sites which paint a picture of somebody that has a very low opinion or had a very low opinion of women, who seemed to have a belief he was entitled to do whatever he wanted to, a real expectation that women were some kind of lesser being.
“That kind of extreme misogyny of the type we have seen here and in terms of the incel community is a threat to all women and, ultimately, to all our communities.”
‘Do we want to start treating incels as potential terrorists?’
The Government is likely to consider treating so-called “incels” as terrorists if there are more attacks like the Plymouth shootings, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation has said.
Jonathan Hall QC told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “The question is really whether or not the authorities want to treat the incel phenomenon as a terrorist risk. That would involve diverting resources or putting resources into it.
“If we see more of these sorts of attacks, then I have got no doubt that it will be treated more seriously as terrorism.
“It fits rather uneasily into the way the authorities understand ideologies. It seems part of right-wing terrorism but it is not really. In fact, it is quite separate from it. It is a different sort of ideology.
“The question is really one of choice. Do we want to start treating incels as potential terrorists?”
Authorities given more powers if classified as terrorism
Afzal said that if incels and extreme misogyny were treated as terrorism then authorities would have more powers to investigate it.
He added: “You have got to think about how we deal with these men, and they are always men. What are they saying online, how are they being radicalised, who is doing the radicalisation?
“If you treat it as terrorism then you have other options open to you in terms of intelligence gathering, in terms of being able to prosecute for disseminating materials, in terms of being able to hold them to account if they are conspiring with each other.
“So, there are other potential offences available if you treat it as terrorism, but of course as we currently know that’s not what the Government’s intention is.”
Women at higher risk from partners and exes
Sir Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, suggested partners and ex-partners were more of a risk to women than incels.
He told BBC Breakfast on Saturday: “I think there is an awareness and there is indeed a debate in policing about this sort of misogyny and this more extreme misogyny.
“I think you would have to say that when you look at the overall threat and risk to women they are more at risk from a person that is known to them, that they are in a relationship with or have just left a relationship with.
“So, I do think this is a threat, it’s a worry, but it mustn’t be taken out of context.”
Additional reporting by PA