Women living in certain municipalities across England and Wales may soon be able to report unwelcome sexual advances and street harassment to police under a new category of hate crime: misogyny.
Earlier this summer, the police force of Nottinghamshire broadened its definition of hate crime to include acts directed at women because they’re women, like unsolicited phone contact, unwanted physical contact, and nonconsensual photography. The change in Nottinghamshire police policy was meant to be a kind of pilot effort; now, other counties are looking to get on board.
The new classification of hate crime allows women to make police reports against men who exert their power over women in misogynist ways (whether or not their actions are otherwise considered crimes) and have law enforcement investigate those reports. A hate crime in Nottinghamshire is defined as “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.” The definition of a misogynist hate crime (“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”) specifically assumes a male perpetrator, meaning female street harassers may not fall under its umbrella. Domestic violence is also excluded, since it’s a separate class of crime.
Police forces can’t make new laws, so they still won’t be able to prosecute annoying things that aren’t crimes, like older men persistently interrupting you in conference calls or journalists writing about young women like they’re pieces of hard candy. (Whether or not waving your hands around in front of a woman’s face until she removes her headphones to hear you blather on about yourself is a prosecutable hate crime remains to be seen.) But the new misogyny category is meant to encourage women to report incidents that may indeed constitute criminal offenses. “Understanding this as a hate crime will help people to see the seriousness of these incidents,” said Melanie Jeffs, manager of the Nottingham Women’s Centre, which teamed up with the county’s police force to develop the new trainings and processes.
Since Nottinghamshire police instituted the new policy in July, Broadly reports, the force has investigated 21 incidents. Seven of those, including one sexual assault, were criminal offenses, and two men have been arrested for “public order offenses.” According to a police force representative, all reports “required police action,” and the rate of reports is comparable to that of hate crimes in other categories, like Islamophobia or homophobia. Reports of misogyny are expected to rise as more women learn about the policy and as students at Nottinghamshire’s two large universities return to school in coming weeks.