11 MAY 2017
BY Deputy Chief Constable Lisa Winward, North Yorkshire police

When Nottinghamshire Police announced in July 2016 that they were to be the first police force in the UK to recognise misogyny as a hate crime – the response the force received was mixed.

Some applauded the move, that in 2016 misogynistic behaviour should be seen as out dated and that to level abuse or harass a woman simply because of her gender should be viewed as criminal behaviour – exactly as if a person was verbally or physically assaulted due to their race or religion.

But some thought the idea of misogyny being recognised as a hate crime was laughable – that this type of language or behaviour be dismissed as banter, or “it’s only a wolf whistle for goodness sake” and why should this type of protection be given to women? What about men?

Indeed, some of the people I have spoken to about the subject – many of them women, have dismissed the idea entirely and that women should just get over it.

Misogyny should never be an accepted part of life

When you watch the video that Nottinghamshire Police released alongside their announcement “Because I’m a woman’” I think it puts the matter into perspective. Women talking about daily harassment and physical assaults that they believed they had to live with – it’s just part of life as a woman.

There are many women who have to consider what they wear, what route to walk to work, what time they will be returning home – all of them changing their behaviour and daily routines because of the experiences they have had. And more relative to this debate, they feel that they have no power to challenge or change it.

I’m sure there are women who can deal with this, laugh it off – or challenge back – but as the video shows, there are many who don’t feel confident enough to do so, or that the situation would quickly escalate into something more sinister than ‘banter’ if they did. At times they are intimidated and fearful of just stepping out of their door. This can’t be right or dismissed can it?

Very sadly, we live in a world where the reality is that women have to take extra measures such as carrying rape alarms, downloading protection apps for their phones, avoiding certain routes after certain times and look over their shoulder whilst walking home – all to avoid harassment or potential attack. The feeling of vulnerability is real for some.

The research completed last year on behalf of Action Aid regarding women experiencing harassment in UK cities made stark reading. The report stated that three quarters of UK women had experienced some form of violence or harassment in cities, with three in seven feeling at risk on city streets and a third feeling at risk when travelling on public transport.

Our own engagement work with the North Yorkshire Youth Commission has highlighted that fear of verbal abuse and sexual harassment is still very much on young women’s minds. Some of the young women who are working with us as part of the commission, were brave enough to share their first hand experiences of being harassed whilst on nights out.

Reporting hate crime

The police already have the relevant laws in place to arrest and prosecute perpetrators of harassment or assault, but by including misogyny as a characteristic of hate crime – it gives a message out to women that this type of behaviour is not to be dismissed or trivialised. That they can take confidence in the fact that they will be listened to and taken seriously by the police and that support and advice is available to them. There is something they can do to take back control and there are steps that can be taken to stop this from happening again to them, or to anyone else.

That’s why North Yorkshire Police are currently taking the steps to add misogyny into its hate crime policy. In the coming months we will be looking to educate our front line officers in the recognition of the offence and the support available for victims.

Our job is to keep the public of North Yorkshire safe and to ensure that the vulnerable are identified and protected. This move ensures that a clear message is given to those women who feel fear or intimidation, whatever the reason, that they can come forward and report with confidence – they will be listened to and taken seriously.

I encourage all victims of all types of hate crime to come forward and report it, either to the police on 101 or to Stop Hate UK on 0800 138 1625. You will be listened to and supported.

This post was originally published by North Yorkshire Police. Read it here.

Deputy Chief Constable Lisa Winward, North Yorkshire Police About author

Deputy Chief Constable Lisa Winward works for North Yorkshire Police, the second force in the UK to recognise misogyny as a hate crime.