An MP who campaigned to make up-skirting illegal has said not making misogyny a hate crime is a “missed political opportunity for a transformation in culture towards women”.
Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse has tabled her own private members bill to make motivation by misogyny an aggravating factor in criminal sentencing.
It comes as Labour successfully defeated the Government in the House of Lords by passing an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to make misogyny a hate crime back in January.
The proposed law change would enable judges to impose stronger penalties if prejudice against women is proven to be the motivation, and would also require the police to record whether crimes were motivated by a hatred of someone’s sex or gender.
But the Bill is now being contested by the Home Secretary who doesn’t want to add misogyny to existing hate crime laws.
Priti Patel plans to write to MPs outlining her opposition to the amendment after the Law Commision said making misogyny a hate crime will prove “more harmful than helpful.”
This is because cases such as public sexual harassment would not meet the ‘hostility’ test in existing hate crime laws, which relies on the offender being motivated by or demonstrating ‘hostility’ towards a group.
The Law Commission has recommended that the Government consider a specific offence to tackle public sexual harassment.
Speaking during a session of women and equalities questions in the House of Commons, Home Office minister Rachel Maclean said: “We are not minded to make misogyny a hate crime, that is not the way we tackle these systemic issues.
“We are determined to deal with violence against women and girls but that I’m afraid is not the way to do it.”
Ms Hobhouse said it’s “incredibly disappointing” the government keeps opposing the amendment.
‘Making misogyny a hate crime sets benchmark for inappropriate behaviour’
Ms Hobhouse, who is the party’s spokesperson for women and equalities, helped to make up-skirting a specific criminal offence in England in 2019.
Up-skirting typically involves someone taking a picture under another person’s clothing without their knowledge.
The legal victory was the catalyst moment that spurred her on to tackle culture and behaviour towards women.
She told NationalWorld: “Like any hate crime legislation, for me, the most important thing, is that it sets a marker in the sand that certain behaviour isn’t acceptable - and that it is against the law.
“For that reason, I think it would be a very powerful piece of legislation.”
She thinks making misogyny a hate crime would mirror existing legislation against racism or religious hatred.
She added: “[The Law Commission] are legal experts and they are arguing on technicalities, in my view, and really I think it would be a missed political opportunity for a transformation in culture towards women.
Asked if she thinks it would be helpful for misogynistic crimes to be on record, she said: “Yes, absolutely, one of the advantages would be there’s actually data.
“That has been the progress when previous governments introduced the hate crime legislation was that incidents get recorded and it gives you a picture - and for that reason alone making misogyny a hate crime would be very useful.”
‘I admire the generation of women calling out wrong behaviour’
This month marks one year since Sarah Everard was murdered by a serving Metropolitan Police officer, Wayne Couzens, as she was walking home in London on March 3, 2021.
Her murder sparked national outcry and started a wider conversation around the safety of women on the streets and sexism at large.
Ms Hobhouse said she admires the younger generation of women who are standing up to inappropriate behaviour the older generation have endured without having the same confidence to question it - but she doesn’t know how long it will take to change deep-rooted beliefs.
She added: “Attitudes that have existed for thousands of years are difficult to change in a year - let’s wait and see if we can really transform attitudes towards women.
“I think each time women finally stand up and say ‘we have had enough’ - the Sarah Everard was yet another moment but remember the Me Too moment - where particularly younger women of the generation after me, if I may say, are not putting up anymore - it’s progress.”
She makes the point that in the past 50 years women’s equality has improved with female representation in parliament and women going beyond ‘the glass ceiling’ at the workplace - but it is still by no means equal.
She said: “Over the years and over the decades I think we have improved the case for women’s equality but we are by no means there.
“Hopefully we are making further progress and not going backwards, that’s all I can say.
“Whether we can do everything in a year, I don’t think so - it will still take a lot of time.
“I must say I admire the generation of young women who really stand up now and call out any of that inappropriate sexual behaviour and sexual violence that too many women of my generation have put up with.”
The second reading of Ms Hobhouse’s private members bill is scheduled to take place on Friday, 18 March while the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill will be back in the Commons for consideration on Monday, 28 February.
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