OPINION - Martin Bentham: Making misogyny a hate crime would be a counterproductive distraction

·3-min read
 (Daniel Hambury / Evening Standard)
(Daniel Hambury / Evening Standard)

The vote by peers this week in favour of making misogyny a hate crime has thrust the issue back into the political spotlight as the debate that began in the aftermath of Sarah Everard’s murder over how to better tackle violence against women continues.

In support of a change in the law, which would lead to perpetrators of misogynistic offences receiving extra time on their sentences, Baroness Newlove, the former Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, said it would send a “powerful message” that the “law is on the side of women” and recognise the reality that “deep-rooted hostility towards women that motivates many” crimes committed against them.

All that is, of course, true, but Justice Secretary Dominic Raab responded the following day by reiterating the government’s view that the reform would be a mistake that could even prove “counter-productive”, adding that ministers would seek to overturn the Lords vote when the relevant legislation returns to the Commons.

He cited a report last year by the Law Commission, which came down against making misogyny a hate crime because of the risk that it could, in practice, make it harder to secure convictions in rape and domestic abuse cases and “create unhelpful hierarchies of victims”.

That was a reference to the danger that some offences would be dealt with more seriously than others simply because prosecutors had been able to prove a misogynistic motivation in them, but not in the others, even where the crimes themselves were of equal gravity.

The Law Commission also pointed out that any attempt to avoid this – as peers voted to do - by excluding rape and domestic abuse from an extension of hate crime law would simply make “misogyny very much the poor relation of hate crime laws, applicable only in certain, limited contexts”.

They’re powerful arguments with which I agree. It’s worth pointing out too that any offence committed without provocation – which covers of course any crime motivated purely by hatred of women – should already be treated by the court as an aggravating feature that justifies a heavier sentence.

More relevantly still is how police and prosecutors’ time and money is best spent? To this, the answer seems obvious – by enforcing the existing laws and new measures such as the soon to arrive breastfeeding voyeurism offence, more effectively so that more men committing crimes against women are brought to justice.

Rape is the most notorious example of a dismal success rate, but upping the number of convictions for domestic abuse, stalking, and harassment would be a better focus too. Devoting energy and resources to proving misogyny in the relatively few crimes that do get to court would only result, in reality, to most offenders getting a few extra months.

By contrast, getting more men before a judge or magistrate for their crimes would do far more to protect women and mean a greater likelihood too that offenders’ behaviour could be addressed through the sentences imposed. Sending messages about society’s disapproval of misogyny is all well and good, but practical action is what counts most.

Do you think misogyny should be made a hate crime? Let us know in the comments below.

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