14 OCTOBER 2016

“Hooked me around the neck really tightly”, “Following me slowly in his car”, “Rubbed his bits against my back”, “I felt trapped”, “Are you legal yet?”, “He told me I was ‘ugly anyway’”, “A man has decided I’m fair game to touch or follow”.

This is just a small example of some of the hundreds of statements made by women from across the UK about the regular public abuse they face, but for many of us, these experiences will feel starkly and distressingly familiar. The daily experience of being a woman in what can be an aggressively objectifying world is one to which nearly all of us can relate, and will sadly come as little surprise to those reading.

That’s why, this National Hate Crime Awareness Week (8-15 October), I am asking you to join me in calling for a change to these pervasive attitudes by signing and sharing my #NotACompliment petition. This week is the perfect time to draw attention to the ongoing, endemic problem of sexual harassment, assault and rape, among other gendered hate crimes committed against women in the UK.

I started the #NotACompliment petition because it worries me that, as a society, we’ve come to think of incidents like these as ‘normal’. I also want to bring an end to gendered harassment, and for abuse of this kind to be defined as a hate crime by the police. At the time of writing it has over 24,000 signatures.

The motivation and idea for this campaign follows in the footsteps of Nottinghamshire Police Force who, in July, led the way and announced they had extended hate crime legislation to cover misogyny. This means that any abuse or harassment experienced on account of being a self-identifying woman can now be reported, tracked, and even investigated by the police – and reliable support for the victim can finally be put in place.

I think this is a great start but it’s time the rest of the country properly follows Nottingham’s lead.

Since this great step, a few other police forces (Devon and Cornwall, Durham, Lincolnshire) have sent delegates to Nottingham because they want to try it out too, and I need your help to show our support for this move.

Of course, such a move wasn’t without criticism and concern. Many feared that it would lead to the ‘criminalising of flirting’ but, contrary to some rather reactionary early headlines, the decision has not led to a frenzy of men being jailed for a single wolf-whistle. As Laura Bates from Everyday Sexism wrote for The Guardian;

In reality, the 30 misogynistic hate crimes recorded by police since the new category was introduced ranged from public order offences to physical assault, indecent assault and even kidnapping“.

It’s important to bear in mind when talking about this issue that recording misogyny as a crime doesn’t actually change what is already a crime under UK law. In fact, what it does do is have a major impact on women’s perceptions of what they can confidently report to the police – assured of the fact that they will be taken seriously, and given the necessary support.

With a poll run earlier this year by the group End Violence Against Women finding that 85% of women aged 18-24 had experienced unwanted sexual attention and 45% had experienced unwanted sexual touching, the fact that this move might give some women the courage to come forward is no small feat. And it’s not just adults bearing the brunt of this abuse – the anti-street harassment group Hollaback found that most experienced catcalling for the first time between the ages 11 and 17. We are letting our young girls down on a national scale, and it’s time we did something about it.

Stopping street harassment matters, and I hope you’ll join me by signing and sharing the petition, and so in saying loudly and clearly that street harassment, abuse, and assault is #NotACompliment.

Cerian Jenkins, Founder of the Gender Equality NetworkABOUT AUTHOR 

Cerian is a campaigner, activist and intersectional feminist. She founded the Gender Equality Network and launched and ran last year’s successful #ISeeTara campaign. She is a Stonewall School Role Model, an LSE Pride GDS Committee Member, and a public speaker/workshop leader. Cerian is currently studying for an MSc in Politics and Communication at LSE.