Last week Nottinghamshire Police took a monumental step when they became the first country in the UK to recognize misogyny as a hate crime. According to a news release on the declaration, the categorization will apply to a range of incidents reported to the police:
“Misogyny hate crime, in addition to the general hate crime definition, may be understood as incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman, and includes behavior targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman.
“Examples of this may include unwanted or uninvited sexual advances; physical or verbal assault; unwanted or uninvited physical or verbal contact or engagement; use of mobile devices to send unwanted or uninvited messages or take photographs without consent or permission.”
The decision appears to be born out of the inaugural Nottinghamshire Safer for Women Conference held last year by Nottinghamshire Police and Nottingham Women’s Centre and funded by the Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner. At the event, attendees heard testimonials from victims of misogynistic hate crime and examples of British Transport Police’s marketing and Hollaback UK’s campaign work. Out of that gathering came an action plan to create new policing policies, training packages and communication strategies. Thus far, the police have made good on that pledge with the hate crime classification, and by the end of July the three-month misogyny hate crime training required of select officers and staff will be complete.
Almost immediately I wondered whether the U.S. should follow suit — or rather why they hadn’t already come to this decision. The answer may lie in the fundamental differences in each country’s definition of a hate crime. As pointed out by Broadly, in response to a 2014 study that examined how Nottinghamshire citizens view hate crime, the definition was revised to view 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.” Conversely, the FBI’s website classifies a hate crime as 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.” Unless the FBI were to expand its definition of a hate crime to include non-criminal offenses, a misogyny hate crime category is highly unlikely. But is it time for America to consider this route?
Emily May, Executive Director of anti-harassment group Hollaback!, says no. She told Broadly:
“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. 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.”
May has a point. As monumental as Nottinghamshire’s proclamation is, there’s no denying the ambiguity of the misogyny hate crime classification. Attitude and perception are hard concepts to prove in court, and if we’re still struggling as a country to recognize and prosecute rape, little hope exists for a criminal fight against street harassment. But if we did stand a chance in the fight, is that truly what we’d want?
Right now the subject of discriminatory policing is once again a hot button issue due to the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, as it’s been proven time and time again cops patrol black communities more than any other. And as 2014’s viral street harassment video proved, even when an issue isn’t about race somehow black and latino men are always made out to be the face of the problem. But gender prejudice and racial prejudice are two separate subjects in need of equal attention. Should women back down from encouraging the criminalization of street harassers to shield men from the consequences of an unjust police system? Or is doing so just another example of women sacrificing their needs for the sake of men, many of whom still don’t recognize street harassment and all that comes with it as problematic or call out other men for their perpetration of said behavior?
Personally, I don’t want the United States to get to (or continue to be) a place where misogyny has to be a criminal offense, but in lieu of any real consequences what’s to stop men from continuing the cycle? And why should women pay the price in the interim? Perhaps if men and women knew there were real consequences to this type of behavior, there’d be less silence from women and less incidents from men to report to begin with.