The chief constable is right, making misogyny a hate crime is not the solution to gender inequality
If the nation and its lawmakers require the forces of law and order to prioritise ending this behaviour, they must advise police which crimes are no longer to be chased up, or provide extra funding
Politicians can be justly criticised for asking teachers or soldiers to do more and more with less resources – so too can they be reproved for asking the police to enforce ever more crimes.
Chief Constable Sara Thornton, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, makes an important intervention in the debate about treating gender hatred as actual crimes, rather than simply as offensive behaviour. Trying to legally regulate misogyny (against women) and misandry (against men) would be even more difficult and time consuming for the police and the criminal justice system than the present list of prohibitions covering race, disability, sexual orientation and so on.
As she says: “We are asked to provide more and more bespoke services that are all desirable – but the simple fact is there are too many desirable and deserving issues…” On the issue of merely recording misogyny and misandry as events rather than as crimes, she adds: “I want us to solve more burglaries and bear down on violence before we make more records of incidents that are not crimes.”
Of course Chief Constable Thornton is straying into sensitive areas, but the point she makes is a fair one. She is not downgrading hate crimes – anything but. She is saying that to make them a crime is not some gesture, they will need to be prosecuted, with evidence gathered and cases going to the director of public prosecutions for a trial.
She is, thus, merely trying to inject some realism into the ever lengthening wish list the public presents to the police. Regrettably, such is the scale of these sometimes calculated, sometimes careless remarks, and such is society’s sometimes confused attitude towards gender prejudice that it would require vast, probably impossible, police resources to pursue.
If the nation and its lawmakers require the forces of law and order to give some priority to ending such upsetting and degrading behaviour, then there is also a responsibility to either advise the police as to which crimes are no longer to be chased up, or to provide the extra funding that would be required to carry out the task properly.
Of course, as the last few years have shown, the police, like most other public services, have had to raise productivity and work hard to keep up with the demands placed upon them. There does, however, come a point when “efficiency savings” and selling off assets that are no longer required (such as “redundant” police stations) is no longer enough.
Gender discrimination is, rightly, illegal, and attitudes have moved as a result of that. Much the same is true about racist behaviour: it too is still out there, but in much less openly than before the first legislation was enacted in 1965 (the Race Relations Act).
Expression of gender-based hatred could be made into hate crimes, and in due course that very action would change attitudes and liberate women from such casual verbal violence.
However, that transition, arguably already underway, would be neither smooth nor swift – it would require the same underpinning of legal and police resources to make it effective.
That, so far, has been notable for its absence. In such circumstances, making misogyny and its more seldom heard mirror, misandry, into hate crimes would merely discredit the cause of equality.
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