Update: Campaigners have been calling for misogyny to be made a hate crime and on March 17, the government announced that it will ‘on an experimental basis’ ask the police to record crimes of violence motivated by a person’s sex or gender.
Since the tragic death of Sarah Everard, women’s groups have argued that recording misogyny as a hate crime will provide ‘critical data’ on violence against women and girls.
The Law Commission has carried out a review of hate crime legislation and will make its official recommendations to the government this year.
Labour MP Stella Creasy took to Twitter to share her jubilation, noting that changes to legislation were needed to make sure such crimes could be prosecuted.
So what exactly is a hate crime? It’s a crime deemed to have been committed when someone is assaulted or harassed due to their sexual orientation, race, religion, disability or transgender identity.
The news comes after GLAMOUR posted this article at the start of the week….
It was the moment the US Election results were confirmed. For days I had been feverishly refreshing my news tabs and watching CNN as those red and blue bars went up and up: now the moment had finally come. I had reached a point on the Tube line where I had regained signal, just as the world was celebrating the demise of Donald Trump and heralding a new era, where the first woman, first Black and first Asian Vice President, Kamala Harris, was ascending to the White House.
As I was drafting my celebratory tweet and texting my friends, I suddenly became aware of a man to my left, over the other side of the carriage. Through the small space between my face mask and beanie hat, I locked eyes with him briefly, before realising that not only was he leering and licking his lips at me, he also had his penis out and was masturbating towards me.
In addition to taking photos of the man and verbally confronting him, I reported the incident to station staff when I reached my final destination, before going through the timeline of events with someone from the British Transport Police. While the policeman assigned to my case has been consistently helpful and sensitive, making sure to ring me even when there is no update and helping me find mental health support and therapy, the TfL staff I spoke with weren’t so helpful. They met my report with disbelief, telling me multiple times to calm down and to not get too worked up. I felt like they didn’t think it was a big deal – especially since it took several requests for them to actually take down the details of the crime. They also told me off for not calling 999 or pulling the emergency brake on the train, which is something the police officer later applauded me for not doing, as it could have meant being trapped on the train with him, potentially exposing myself to further risk.
I was furious; here I was trying to report a crime and instead of being met with concern or any sense of urgency, it was suggested that I was being hysterical and I was being told off like a petulant child.
To make matters worse, my male friends who I’ve spoken to about the incident thought it was appropriate to make light of the situation, suggesting I should be flattered that this gross man whipped his d**k out in front of me – they even asked how big it was. But the thing is; just because he didn’t touch me, does not mean I felt any less violated.
The reason I have pursued this case with such vigour is that when I was sexually assaulted seven years ago, I didn’t have the strength, support or confidence to do so. Yes, I reported it, but I didn’t fight because I was broken and just wanted it all to go away. I also couldn’t help but think what else this man on the Tube was capable of; as we’ve seen with the tragic case of Sarah Everard, these things rarely happen in isolation and we need to take all forms of sexual crimes more seriously. Despite having recovered CCTV footage which shows the man exposing himself to me and sending the images I took to other police departments and the media, I was informed a few weeks ago that my case had been closed and the only way to catch him now is if he commits another crime – it doesn’t have to be of the same nature, but it might be.
Sadly, I am not alone in my experience. According to a recent survey by UN Women, over 70% of women in the UK of all ages said they had experienced sexual harassment in public – which includes events, venues and public transport. Despite these stark figures, in 2020 more than a fifth of rape referrals were “administratively finalised” by the Crown Prosecution Service, meaning they were closed without action against the suspects. In the same UN Women survey, only 4% said they had reported these incidents to an official organisation, with 45% of women saying they didn’t believe reporting would help change anything.
Helena Wadia, a 27-year-old video journalist from London, was on her way to work at 9am one morning when a man groped her from behind and knocked her phone out of her hand when she tried to take images. “I could read so many things in his face at that moment,” she says, “I could see the power he had over me, that he was enjoying. I could see he was a little surprised that I had turned around. I could see hints of a warning in his eyes, as if they were saying ‘don’t make a fuss’. I saw he was very, very, slightly scared. But mostly, I saw he was basking in the power.” While Helena felt the police officer assigned to her case met her with “instant belief”, other people in her life weren’t so supportive: “What felt terrible was that many of them [friends, family and colleagues] laughed, joked, and acted as if it was an everyday experience that I should brush off. It made me feel stupid for calling it assault and made me feel like I was overreacting for ‘thinking it was a big deal’, or being worried about getting on the Tube again.”
Emily Smith* from Southampton was eighteen years old when her boss’ friend assaulted her at the pub where she worked as a barmaid before university. Whilst she had been texting the man previously and had sent him a photo of herself, he forced himself upon her after a shift one night: “I went upstairs to lock the windows and he followed me up and pinned me on the bed. [There was] lots of touching, biting and kissing – even when I asked him to stop.” When she told her boss she was considering reporting the incident, he said she would lose her job and to consider how her family would feel. She also “received really nasty messages from his friends afterwards for about three months, saying they all had this picture of me and how I was a slag.” The incident also changed the way she talked to men: “I felt like it was my fault. Looking back, I know it wasn’t […] I’m not sure if I was embarrassed by what happened or my lack of response to it. I regret not going to the police.”
When writer Lydia Burton*, now 26, reported that she had been groped by a man on the way home from school near Clapham aged seventeen, the deputy head dismissed it as “a cheeky bum grab” and told her “do the walk again and [you’ll] be fine”. At the time, Lydia blamed herself, questioning her outfit: “I was wearing a skirt [and] felt like that somehow made me responsible.” She said, “it was terrifying, as I remember his shadow getting closer and closer […] it makes me furious to look back on.”
In 2008, Aysha Hassan*, a marketing specialist from London, was visiting family friends in Italy aged sixteen when she was attacked by a young man after a night out with her friends. She had met him a few days before and they had exchanged numbers, so she texted him to come join her and her pals. While for the majority of the night they were just talking, she explains, “being young, naive and under the influence of alcohol, I kissed this guy after not knowing him long at all […] The other girls were clearly no longer interested in him once we had kissed and decided to leave me with him.” Things soon took a turn for the worse and, after taking Aysha to a park nearby, the man started pulling her trousers down on a bench.
“I remember saying ‘No, no. Please stop’. He then pulled my knickers to one side [and] started pushing his penis onto me and tried to penetrate me, it was hurting but I was so tense and trying so hard to stop him from raping me.” The man only stopped when a passer by interrupted him and, similarly to the other women I have spoken to, Aysha felt judgement from those around her: “The next day, all the girls ignored me. I told them all that had happened and they then told my friend’s mum. Instead of showing me any support, her mum lectured me on how it was my fault that it happened. She told me I should have more self-respect and that I should be ashamed of myself.”
According to psychologist, Şirin Atçeken, trauma is “different for each woman – some will go in on themselves, and retreat and isolate, and others will become extremely extroverted, and may lose their inhibitions – the only thing in common, is that existing trauma victims won’t have the foundations or capabilities to respond in a healthy way.
“Unfortunately, many women who have been sexually assaulted subconsciously take the blame for what happened,” she adds, “The first step to recover from that trauma is to stop taking the blame and understand that it is never your fault and not your shame. Speak up and get support from people you trust […] Be patient, it will take time, but recovery is possible. Overcoming the trauma can be even very empowering, this is what we call traumatic growth.”
What these men do to women goes beyond the incident itself. Personally, I’m suffering with PTSD and fear getting on public transport. I was already mindful about the risks men posed, but now I cannot escape it; I am constantly mapping out escape routes in my head, questioning why men choose to sit close to me or other women on public transport when there’s plenty of space. I am hostile, I am guarded, I am angry. But, like so many women, I do not want to be any of those things.
One of the women I spoke to, Helena, believes an overhaul of the justice system and the way crimes of a sexual nature and their convictions are handled is essential: “It works on ‘cold, hard evidence’ – except that type of evidence is so rare in assault cases.” Meanwhile, Emily pointed out that the phrasing of statistics needs to be updated: “It’s always ‘9/10 women have been assaulted’, ‘X% or women harassed in the workplace’ instead of ‘X% of men assaulted…’ […] even the wording is there to put blame on women!”
Others are calling for the criminalisation of misogynistic behaviours all-together, including following women and wolf-whistling, citing these traits as intimidation tactics which may lead to more serious crimes against women. Activist Nimko Ali quite rightly points out: “The pavements of this country have more protection than the women walking them. You can get fined for dropping litter but not for telling a young woman to come over and carry out a sexual act on you.”
In 2016, Nottinghamshire police expanded its categories of hate crime to include misogynistic incidents such as catcalling or wolf-whistling in the street. These uninvited sexual advances are recorded as a hate crimes and can be reported to and investigated by the police, with support put in place for victims – but we’ve still got a long way to go.
We want to live our lives without fear or question. We want men to stop normalising this sort of behaviour and actually call their mates out if they hear derogatory remarks or ‘jokes’ about rape and assault. If they suspect a friend or someone they know does act inappropriately towards women, they need to speak up. Women are tired of having to protect themselves and fear for their safety 24/7. It’s unendingly exhausting and is neither sustainable or reasonable to expect us to continue living in these conditions, perpetually afraid of what men might do to us. We need action. We need real, impactful change to prevent this sort of thing from happening, to prevent women going missing on their way home, to avenge the Sarah Everards of the world who have died needlessly.
*Some names have been changed to protect the identities of sexual assault survivors.