Police forces have been encouraged to recognise the public harassment of women as a gender hate crime following the largely positive support of a two year scheme in Nottingham that has adopted the policy.
Campaigners want the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) to be more open to the policy as part of the changes brought on by the #MeToo movement. The NPCC will be discussing the case for adopting the policy across England, Wales and Northern Ireland in due course.
In May 2016, Nottinghamshire police – collaborating with Nottingham Women’s Centre – became the first UK force to record public harassment of women as a misogyny hate crime. Offences include groping, the use of explicit language and taking unwanted photographs in addition to more serious matters.
Since the scheme commenced Nottinghamshire police received 181 reports of misogyny hate crimes, 74 of these were recorded as crimes and were dealt with accordingly – including four arrests and one charge – whilst the remaining 107 were considered hate incidents.
Nottinghamshire police have the ability to classify public harassment of women as a hate crime thanks to the fact that a basic hate crime definition is not provided by statute, resulting in forces being encouraged to classify hate crimes on the basis of their local area’s priorities. The classification that Nottinghamshire has adopted means that people can report incidents that may not typically be considered a crime, allowing for police intervention and victim support. It would however, require legislative change in order for there to be any impact on sentencing.
Despite large attempts by the media to trivialise the scheme – dubbing it ‘arrests for wolf-whistling’ – the public opinion has been a positive one and has garnered widespread support in the Nottingham area.
By using focus groups and surveys of around 700 people, researchers from Nottingham and Nottingham Trent universities found harassment of women and girls to be endemic. Statistics showed that 94% of respondents had either directly experienced or witnessed street harassment. Women from black and ethnic minority groups revealed to feel doubly vulnerable to attack on the basis of their gender and their race.
The survey also showed that wolf whistling was the most common form of harassment with 62% of respondents having experienced or witnessed it; alarmingly almost 50% revealed they had witnessed or experienced groping in a public place.
The most common places for harassment to take place included nightclubs (39%), bars (38%) and on public transport (25%). Most respondents revealed that they reacted to harassment by simply walking away (40%) or ignoring it (31%).
Helen Voce, the chief executive of Nottingham Women’s Centre noted how the scheme would deter harassment in the future, she said;
“The primary objective of the policy change was not to see hundreds of prosecutions, it was to let people know that this behaviour isn’t acceptable and will not be tolerated in Nottinghamshire.”
Since the pilot scheme began, support has grown across the country. Similar schemes have been introduced in North Yorkshire, Avon and Somerset and Northamptonshire. The civil society alliance, Citizens UK has, along with the Fawcett Society and senior Jewish and Muslim leaders co-signed a letter urging the NPCC to adopt a national stance. Meanwhile, in Scotland, the government at Holyrood is considering new proposals.
Weighing in on the report, the lead on hate crime for North Yorkshire police, Supt Mark Khan said;
“It’s about catching behaviour at an early stage. Today’s flasher is tomorrow’s rapist. We need more awareness-raising and training for police as well as public. Hate crime across the service is under-reported.”
He also made reference to the controversial nature of the policy – one which has already been picked up on by the media;
“It will cause a lot of questions, mainly from a hard-core of men who feel it’s not fair. But the current momentum around offences against women and the way they are treated needs to be reflected in the way we approach hate crime.”
Nicholas De Freitas, is Director of Crime at Duncan Lewis’ Harrow branch. Nicholas has extensive expertise in all criminal matters, representing both private and legal aid eligible clients. As a Higher Rights Advocate, he has experience in a wide range of criminal proceedings and he has acted as Junior Counsel in a number of murder cases and complex fraud trials. He has also conducted trials involving Sexual Offences including both Rape and Sexual Assault.
Contact Nicholas on 020 3114 1150 and nicholasd@Duncanlewis.com.
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