Nottinghamshire Police made headlines when it announced its plan to treat gender-based street harassment as a hate crime—but only 100 reports have been logged so far. Broadly investigates why the crime remains so underreported.
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"As I walked past the building site there was a group of men, and one of them screamed at me, 'Hey, lady, nice arse!'" recalls Rosemary. "He had to shout it over the traffic, which I thought was aggressive. When I turned around, they were laughing at me."
Rosemary, 25, who works for a charity in Nottingham, had been walking to a corner store on her lunch break when she was verbally harassed. She was left "filled with outrage that I was meant to be taking a break from work, and I was coming back full of adrenalin and really angry about it."
Rather than—as she describes it—"take it on the chin, calm down, and get on with it" like she had done in the past, Rosemary had seen on the news that Nottinghamshire Police had recently become the first police force in the UK to record misogyny as a hate crime, which it defines as "incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman and includes behavior targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman." In practice, this means that street harassment and other forms of misogynistic abuse can be classified as hate crimes—just like homophobic or racist abuse.
Rosemary reported the event to the police and was supported by a specially trained officer over the next few weeks. The police spoke to the building site manager, who called a staff meeting to reinforce that such behavior was unacceptable. For the "first time," Rosemary says, she felt "able to do something."
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Her case was logged as an "incident" by Nottinghamshire Police, which confirmed that it had dealt with 100 reports of misogyny-related hate crimes between April 2016 and May 2017.
According to a subsequent Freedom of Information request from Broadly, Nottinghamshire Police classified 33 of these reports as criminal offenses between April 2016 and April 2017—the first year on record that it had introduced misogyny as a category of hate crime.
A police spokesperson explains: "One of the main reasons we decided to introduce this category of hate crime was to give women the confidence to report men who are behaving inappropriately—be that unwanted physical contact, being verbally abusive or making uninvited sexual advances."
The 33 hate crimes included 13 cases of public fear, alarm, or distress—making it the highest offense type—and five cases involving sexual assault. Nottinghamshire police also did not prosecute any offenders in relation to these 33 reports. The police force recorded a total of 1,476 hate crimes over the same period.
Although significant, these figures don't stack up against recent research. Last year, a YouGov poll for End Violence Against Women (EVAW) found that an overwhelming 85 percent of young women had experienced street harassment, and more than a third of women of all ages had experienced unwanted touching. In the same year, a study by the TUC in collaboration with the Everyday Sexism Project showed that more than half of all women and almost two-thirds of women aged 18-34 have been sexually harassed at work.
EVAW co-director Sarah Green says that the Nottinghamshire Police hate crime figures are "not at all the same as the actual level at which women experience harassment and abuse in the streets every day." She adds: "Many women in Nottingham will still not be aware that they can report this kind of abuse, [including] shouting, following, sexual suggestions, name calling, and fat-shaming."
Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, believes that the new initiative will "inevitably take time for it to become well established, with more reports expected over time." She also says that some people, particularly those who are LGBTQ or women of color, have had "bad past experiences with reporting to the police, so it is understandable that some will be wary and others not feel able to report at all."
Most of all, she argues that these numbers are a reflection of attitudes towards women. "We live in a society where women and girls are conditioned from an incredibly young age to accept being harassed, assaulted, and abused in public spaces as 'normal,'" she says. "We also live in a society that encourages us to simply shut up and accept it. Women who do report street harassment are blamed, shamed, accused of overreacting, and worse."
When asked for comment on the low figures, the police spokesperson said: "Hate crime is an area which experiences underreporting across all monitored strands and it is our belief that misogyny hate crime is no different."
It is also important to note that Nottinghamshire Police also did not charge a single suspect in any of the recorded misogyny cases. The Crown Prosecution Service does not provide guidance for misogyny-related hate crimes. However sentences for other types of hate crime—such as homophobic abuse—have included fines, community orders, and prison.
"Of course, we will look to prosecute offenders where possible," the police spokesperson told Broadly. "However, unfortunately, it is often difficult to identify suspects in these cases. That does not mean that we haven't taken action against perpetrators, and officers have spoken to men about their behavior and explained the consequences of their actions."
Safer For Women project coordinator Andrea Bushell is part of Nottingham Women Centre (NWC), the organization that first put forward the case for recording misogyny as a hate crime. "Obviously, we would all like to see the successful prosecution of offenders," she acknowledges. "As far as I am aware, all of the reports so far have required some form of police action and it is our belief that a large proportion of these women would not have reported these incidents 15 months ago."
Bushell believes this initiative has had a "profound effect" on women in the area. "Many women have contacted Nottingham Women's Centre to tell us about the positive impact this has had on their lives—simply knowing they can report it, they will be listened to and they will be taken seriously."
Rosemary's offender was not prosecuted, but she says that the ability to report has boosted her confidence. "It's a statement of support for people like me," she says. She also thinks that raising awareness of this initiative could stop potential offenders. "It's a long term preventative, cultural changing action," she says. "It's [about] trying to change the soil from which our social behavior grows from."
Rosemary, Bushell, Bates, and Green all support the example set by Nottinghamshire Police, and it seems that some other forces in the UK are taking action.
In April, North Yorkshire police said it would add misogyny to its hate crime policy. Meanwhile, Lincolnshire Police told Broadly that it plans to record misogyny as a hate crime by the end of this year—albeit under the classification of "Gender Based Hostility"—and the Metropolitan Police says it is "currently discussing the reporting of misogyny crimes with the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime."
However, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands police—the third and fourth biggest police force in the country—told Broadly that they have no plans to introduce the recording of misogyny as a hate crime.
And Rosemary says that this needs to go even further: Other authorities like schools and local councils should support women in reporting sexist abuse, too. For her, the ability to call out the misogyny she receives in her "day-to-day" life has been empowering.
"As a woman I've experienced plenty of harassment over my life. I think back to things that have happened to me before and I just had to stew on it," she says. "That complete change of how I felt about what happened to me was the most significant thing—before I was just completely left to deal with it. This time I could actually do something."