LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Police forces across Britain should treat abuse and harassment of women as a hate crime, activists said on Monday, citing a rise in public support for the shift after the #MeToo movement triggered a deluge of complaints about misogyny.
Campaigners are urging police chiefs to follow the lead of Nottinghamshire Police, which in 2016 became the first force in Britain to record public harassment of women – from groping and explicit language to sexual assault - as a misogyny hate crime.
An open letter co-signed by charities, academics and faith leaders asks the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) to vote this week to record misogyny as a hate crime nationwide - which could lead to tougher sentences for public harassment of women.
“The purpose of recording misogyny as a hate crime is to drive a wider culture shift in attitudes towards women and girls,” Sam Smethers, chief executive of gender equality charity The Fawcett Society, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“It requires a different approach from the police and also requires women to perceive harassment and abuse as something they have a right to object to, rather than simply tolerate.”
An academic analysis of the shift in strategy by Nottinghamshire Police found “shocking” levels of public misogyny, with more than 90 percent of respondents having experienced or seen abuse and harassment of women on the street.
Two-thirds of women surveyed by Nottingham universities said they had changed habits - such as dress sense and transport - to avoid abuse, while about nine in 10 of the about 700 respondents backed the police’s policy change to make misogyny a hate crime.
Yet only one person has been convicted in the last two years under the policy, with officers unaware of the term misogyny or dismissive of actions such as wolf-whistling, the study found.
“By itself, this new classification is not going to change behavior overnight,” said Paddy Tipping, Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner, in a statement following the research.
“Our approach towards misogyny is first and foremost about supporting women and reassuring them that this type of behavior will be treated extremely seriously,” he added.
While the #MeToo movement and the Time’s Up campaign have raised awareness about sexual misconduct - particularly in the workplace - tougher police action is needed to protect women in public across Britain, said the signatories of the open letter.
“People should not have to accept this behavior and shouldn’t have to change their own behavior to avoid harassment,” said Helen Voce of the Nottingham Women’s Center.
“This policy is a step in the right direction in helping to change the culture across the county and stop this happening at all,” the chief executive of the charity said in a statement.
Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org