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Inciting hostility on basis of sex or gender should become hate crime – review
- Dec 7, 2021
- Latest News
By Ryan Hooper, PA
People who stir up hostility on the basis of sex or gender should be prosecuted for hate crimes in an attempt to combat the “growing threat” of extreme misogyny, the Law Commission has recommended.
The legal review body said so-called “incel” culture – found among “involuntary celibate” people in an “overwhelmingly male online community” which believes society is defined by physical appearance – had the potential to lead to serious criminal offending.
Its 550-page report to the Government contains 34 recommendations, and makes passing reference to the case of Jake Davison, who murdered five people in a shooting spree in Plymouth in August this year, amid claims he had “sought out Incel material and posted videos online expressing Incel sentiments”.
The Law Commission said existing hate crime offences should now be extended to cover hatred on grounds of sex or gender where “stirring up” – or incitement – is involved.
It also suggested the Government undertakes a review of the need for a specific offence of public sexual harassment.
Other recommendations include reforming hate crime legislation to ensure that disabled and LGBT+ victims receive the same protections as victims with other protected characteristics, such as race and religion.
Professor Penney Lewis, Law Commission spokesman, said: “Hate crime has a terrible impact on victims and it’s unacceptable that the current levels of protection are so inconsistent."
“Our recommendations would improve protections for victims while also ensuring that the right of freedom of expression is safeguarded.”
In England and Wales, “hate crimes” are generally used to refer to the aggravation of the seriousness of existing criminal offences, such as assault, harassment or criminal damage, because there is an additional “hostility” element.
Racial hate crime laws were introduced following the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993, and have since been further expanded to include religion, disability and sexual orientation, and transgender identity.
The Law Commission said its recommendations “would not criminalise ‘offensive’ comments”, nor criminalise those who told sexist jokes.
“They (the proposed changes) would not stop people discussing differences between the sexes or articulating views on the suitability of women for positions in religious or secular authority,” the review said.
“What we are referring to is threatening or abusive material which incites and glorifies violence, including sexual violence, against women and girls, and praises men who murder women.”
It also suggested the Government ought to consider whether a “bespoke public sexual harassment offence” should be created, rather than a hate crime offence.
It said: “Existing offences which currently apply to abuse and harassment of women in public spaces are quite heavily focused on threatening and abusive words, and disorderly behaviour.
“A specific offence addressing public sexual harassment might be crafted in a way that better captures the degrading and sexualised nature of the behaviour that frequently occurs in these online and offline contexts.”
Seema Dosaj, managing partner and criminal lawyer at Berris Law comments: “We welcome the report from the Law Commission. For years, women and LGBTQ+ minorities have been subject to mental and physical based violence due to their sex or gender.
Such a report is long overdue and it is about time that the criminal justice system recognised the severity of inciting and encouraging hatred of this kind.
Whenever a debate of this nature takes place, we hear the same misogynistic arguments regarding ‘snow flakes’. We also witness the predictable uproar when it is suggested that the likes of wolf whistling should be criminalised. The truth is, even something as ‘harmless’ as wolf whistling can have a detrimental effect on young people. For those whistled at, they can feel scared, sexualised and uncomfortable. For young boys witnessing it, they are learning that the sexualisation of their peers is normal and even ‘manly’.
Sexual violence is rising in this country and it needs to be nipped in the bud from the outset. As a society we need to raise our children better. The introduction of distinct criminal offences for the incitement or encouragement of hate in relation to sex or gender should mirror those of race and religious hate crimes. Only by prosecuting such matters, do we stand a chance of eradicating what has unfortunately become ‘normal’ behaviour.”
Scott Primmer, criminal lawyer at Reeds Solicitors comments: “Proposing an offence of sexual harassment is interesting and potentially a welcome addition to the current legislation protecting people from sexual offences. However, it is questionable how effectively this can be policed, particularly in relation to activity online and on social media platforms where people often hide their identity.
The inclusion of disabled people and members of the and LGBT+ community to this new protected characteristic is definitely something to be applauded, but arguably should have been done sooner.
Whilst the proposals are certainly a step in the right direction, I worry about the term “Hate Crime”. In my experience as a criminal lawyer, I have noticed that prosecutors have at times labelled offences ‘a hate crime’ with little evidence to support the assertion, other than the fact that the victim is a member of a protected group. This has the unfortunate effect of diluting what is an incredibly important issue.
As we are well aware, our existing criminal justice system needs investment. This should be the paramount priority over and above drafting new legislation. Without significant investment, given the state of the system today, we will likely continue to witness badly investigated and poorly prosecuted cases, in turn resulting in a continuing low conviction rate and disenchanted complainants.”