By Dr Yvette Russell, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).*
On July 13, 2016 Nottinghamshire police became the first force in the UK to recognise misogyny as a hate crime. Hate crime is defined as ‘any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a personal characteristic’. In practical terms, this means that in Nottinghamshire police can record reported incidents such as wolf whistling, verbal abuse, taking photographs without consent, and using mobile phones to send unwanted messages with an additional ‘flag’ or qualifier on their incident log as hate crime. It appears that the move is largely symbolic, as gender animus is not a relevant aggravating factor for the purposes of sentencing under relevant UK ‘hate crime’ legislation, and does not create any new criminal offences. However, the initiative has been supported by the force working in partnership with the Nottingham Women’s Centre and has involved the specialised training of officers to better identify and respond to the public harassment of women by men.
The announcement last week of the initiative was met with the predictable level of teeth gnashing and cries of ‘political correctness gone mad’ characteristic of any policy announcement addressed to countering gender inequality. While the move may be largely bureaucratic, it does present an opportunity to look again at the spectre of criminalisation in our time and consider a related question: What is the role of the criminal law in regulating gender (in)equality, and what should it be? (more…)