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Misogyny Hate Crime Legislation Instigators Receive Increased Abuse

6 August 16 words: Lucy Manning
"Are they trying to give that person a genuine compliment, or demean them by publicly regarding them as nothing more than a being there specifically for their sexual gratification?"
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Often when I walk through town, some yout will shout about how much he wants to “wrap my legs around his neck till he suffocates”. I, of course, am charmed. Wolf-whistling and car horn toots are as standard, as is the 'inoffensive' "Smile, love".

On a night out recently, I was leant up against a wall having a bit of a breather. A boy came up next to me, forced his hand between my back and the wall, and grabbed my bum – his fingers skimming my crotch. I felt sick, and swiftly turned to have a go at him. He laughed in my face.

On a separate night out, a man stood in front of me and grabbed my vagina. He walked on like nothing had happened.

Each of these incidents happened to me specifically because I am a woman. Because those men felt they had the right to say and do what they wished with my body, and had no regard for how it might make me feel, or if I wanted it to happen. Some of those things are classed as sexual assault. Now, in Nottingham, all of those things are regarded as a hate crime.

The Nottingham Citizen’s ‘No Place For Hate’ report in October 2014 discovered – based on interviews, focus groups and surveys completed by over 1,000 people – that around 38% of women reporting a hate crime felt that it was directly linked to their gender. It also suggested that there were around 2,800 unreported hate crimes in Nottingham, largely due to the fact that people were unaware of what one actually is.

Based on these findings, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Police ruled misogyny as a hate crime.

Essentially, this means that the physical or verbal harassment of women, uninvited engagement and unwanted or uninvited communication via text message by men towards women will now be classed as a hate crime. Uninvited engagement can include wolf-whistling, and other, similar types of contact. The definition from the force is “Incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman and includes behaviour targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman”.

The new ruling has been met and accepted by many as a step in the right direction. The classification will not necessarily mean that a crime has been committed and the perpetrator/s punished, but it will mean that victims are offered support and guidance following the event. It also means that Nottinghamshire Police Force can collect information regarding these types of incidents – where, when and how often do they happen.

It also opens up conversation surrounding the topic of gender-based hatred. It empowers and encourages women to stand up to overt misogyny, and sends out a message to the Nottingham population that hatred and prejudice will not be tolerated.

So why, then, has there been so much controversy surrounding the bill?

The main argument I have seen from those who appear to oppose the new ruling of misogyny and street harassment as a hate crime, is that they don’t see 'cat-calling', wolf-whistling and ‘flirtatious’ remarks shouted in the street as a problem. Some women even seem to enjoy them, they say. They're harmless comments. Often, compliments.

To that, one has to ask the question, what do the men who address women in such a manner gain from those interactions?

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Are the men leaning out of car windows telling women to give them a smile trying to brighten that woman’s day by engaging in a meaningful conversation with her, or are they trying to place themselves in a position of power that leaves the woman with little to no room for manoeuvre? She is unable to be in control of her own body and look as miserable as she damn well pleases without a man telling her how to behave.

Are the men who whistle at women as they make their daily commute to work trying to give that person a genuine compliment, or demean them by publicly regarding them as nothing more than a being there specifically for their sexual gratification?

Do those men actually expect anything to come from an interaction like that? I seriously doubt that any woman has ever responded to a wolf-whistle with “Hi there, I heard you whistle your approval of my body. Would you like to have sex with me?” The lack of response from an interaction like this is often assumed, which further begs the question – what are they doing it for?

Melanie Jeffs, manager of the Nottingham Women’s Centre, and Lydia Rye, head of Nottingham Citizens, were the driving forces behind the research that led to the new ruling. Since the bill was passed, both have been subject to a torrent of vicious online abuse.

The women were both told they were “not attractive enough” to experience street harassment, and are sent hundreds of messages a day telling them to “get cancer”.

“I also had someone suggesting that they could find me, tie me up and then… with a GIF of a woman having a dagger plunged through the back of her head,” Ms Jeffs told the Huffington Post UK. Equally as disturbing was a post left on the Citizens UK Facebook page from an American citizen, stating that if he ever visited England he would “make sure every woman I see there is treated like shit”.

His full comment allegedly read: “I will make them cry for even looking at me. I will make them run away with no regard to their feelings. I will purposely make them hate every day this law remains in effect… If this ever becomes law in America, I will make every woman, not just the ones who want this law, feel like the retarded gutter trash that they are. There will be no peace”.

When women who take active steps towards removing misogynistic language and behaviour from our daily lives are subject to such levels of intense, misogynistic abuse, the importance and relevance of ruling that declares such things as a hate crime is proven.

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