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Hate Crimes: Misogyny

Volume 816: debated on Monday 6 December 2021


Asked by

My Lords, the Government are committed to tackling violence against women and girls. We have asked the Law Commission to undertake a review of hate crime legislation, including whether additional protective characteristics such as sex and gender should be included. The Law Commission is due to publish its recommendations imminently and it is important that we hear what the commission proposes before deciding on a position on this matter.

I am still haunted by the thought of the last few hours of Sarah Everard—how her life changed in an instant and how terrified she must have been. It could have been any young woman, because the murdering misogynist who is now serving time had prepared to pick any young woman. There are online groups that objectify and dehumanise women and girls and they radicalise young men, who go on to commit acts of aggression designed to intimidate, humiliate and control women. When will the Minister act on making misogyny a hate crime to counteract the widespread misogynist culture in the police and elsewhere and the shameful drop in rape convictions?

My Lords, what the noble Baroness has outlined goes far beyond misogyny, although I totally appreciate her question, in that quite often it starts with misogyny. On rape convictions, which I heard her mention right at the end, she will know that a rape review has been carried out, the intention of which is to improve the response right through the criminal justice system.

My Lords, we were all terribly shocked as we heard about the appalling murder of Sarah Everard and there has been a greater emphasis and scrutiny on the embedded epidemic of violence against women and girls and the misogyny that goes alongside it. Does the Minister agree with Mark Hamilton, the Deputy Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, along with growing numbers of other senior police officers, who said:

“I think this is a welcome addition to how we respond to crime … in this area … it’s a good way of understanding offender behaviour and preventing things escalating from the more minor offences”—

as we saw with Wayne Couzens—

“up to sexually motivated crime and murder”?

I would not describe Sarah Everard’s killer’s misdemeanours as minor, but I know exactly where the noble Baroness is coming from, which is the trajectory from which these things start, and I do not disagree with her on that. I am very happy with what the Government have done for the past few years: £100 million towards tackling violence against women and girls; stalking protection orders; allowing new offences to tackle forced marriage and revenge porn; and, of course, passing the landmark Domestic Abuse Act.

My Lords, is it not wise to await the outcome of the review, because there is a danger in having a proliferation of crimes on the statute book?

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that, although we welcome the Law Commission’s review, in any consultation prior to a Bill, it is profoundly important that the terminology used is defined as part of the consultation? We are seeing too many consultations coming forward without clear definitions, which is entirely confusing for the public to respond to.

I agree with the noble Baroness that terminology is important—and terminology changes, so it is important to keep up to date with it.

My Lords, on 15 November, the Minister said, in response to an amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, that she would ask police forces to record and identify any crimes of violence against the person where the victim perceives it to be motivated by hostility based on their sex. If she has not already done this, when will she do it? Does she accept that, whatever policy is adopted following the Law Commission’s report, women should be able to expect the same approach across all police forces?

I agree with the noble Baroness that we need consistency across police forces. I know that we are working with police forces across the country to assist in the endeavour that I outlined to my noble friend Lady Newlove.

My Lords, in some recent terrorist crimes in America, the perpetrators have been found to be members of incels—involuntary celibate—groups. Do the Government monitor membership of these groups in the UK or does that wait until the time of the review?

Without going into the details, monitoring of some of the threats that we face goes on in the UK. Noble Lords will have seen in the press some examples of where that has led to more violent crime.

My Lords, we saw with the killer of Sarah Everard that he was part of the police and was protected by a quite toxic culture within the police. Does the Minister agree that if we had misogyny as a crime, the police themselves might improve on their behaviour?

It was clear from the murder of Sarah Everard and the ensuing inquiry that we need to look into an awful lot of areas: the culture, vetting and other elements of what might have led to what happened. It probably goes beyond misogyny.

My Lords, when the Minister responded to my noble friend, she said that she was waiting for the outcome of the Law Commission’s review and its recommendations. Does she agree that the Government need to do more than just respond? They need to proactively act. She mentioned the various other measures that the Government have taken, but here is a golden opportunity to act. What legislation are the Government looking at to move the agenda forward to recognise the recommendations of the Law Commission and the rape review?

I agree with the noble Lord that it is not just about looking at the recommendations, but about seeing how we can put them into legislation and how they become part of our efforts to fight hate crime in whatever form it exists.

My Lords, first, even before we decide whether we should bring in hate crime for misogyny—hatred of women—could the Government clarify that they understand what women are and untangle the definition of women from the confusion around gender? Secondly, is there a danger that, in talking about an epidemic of misogyny, we might frighten young women into thinking that all young men hate them?

We need to strike a balance. On defining what women are, I do not think that the time that I am allotted today is long enough—the noble Baroness is tempting me, but I shall not be drawn into that. However, I think that the language that we use should be very clear so that everyone knows what we are talking about. Balance is incredibly important here as well, because we do not want a generation of terrified women.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that what the National Education Union calls everyday sexism should never go unchallenged in any education setting? It is quite clear that sexism at any level can lead to misogyny among men and boys later.

It is incumbent on us all, whether we are parents, teachers or somebody else with influence on children’s lives, to teach them the value of respect towards each other and towards the opposite sex.

My Lords, I suggest to the Minister that, before making misogyny a hate crime, it would be wise to look more widely at the various offences that already exist and to add this if it is appropriate, or possibly to widen some other offence to include it. There is a grave danger, as has been said, of making too many offences.

The noble and learned Baroness is absolutely right, and we look forward to the Law Commission’s recommendations in this area.

My Lords, building on the response that the Minister gave to my noble friend Lady Blower, could she say what actions her colleagues in the Department for Education have taken following the Everyone’s Invited website and the emergence of very powerful evidence of the kind of thing that my noble friend was talking about?

I am not particularly equipped to talk about Everyone’s Invited, but I will go back to the point that was made, which the noble Baroness is following up on, which is that respect for other people, whether of the same or opposite sex, is incredibly important in a civilised society, and we all need to lead by example.