A community in central England has become the first in the country to label misogyny a hate crime.
Street harassment, unwanted sexual advances, physical or verbal assault, and using mobile devices to send unwanted messages or take photographs without consent are all examples of a hate crime, Nottinghamshire police announced Wednesday.
Chief Constable Sue Fish said the department is "leading the way towards tackling misogyny in all its forms."
“What women face, often on a daily basis, is absolutely unacceptable and can be extremely distressing," Fish said in a statement. "Nottinghamshire Police is committed to taking misogynistic hate crime seriously and encourages anyone who is affected by it to contact us without hesitation."
Gender isn't generally included in the hate crime definition that covers England and Wales, below:
Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person's race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; disability or perceived disability and any crime motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.
In addition to that general hate crime definition, Nottinghamshire is adding what it's calling "misogyny hate crime," described as "incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman, and includes behavior targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman."
Selected officers and staff members began misogyny hate crime training three months ago, which they will complete by the end of July, according to the department.
“We’re pleased to see Nottinghamshire Police recognize the breadth of violence and intimidation that women experience on a daily basis in our communities," Nottingham Women’s Centre manager Melanie Jeffs said in a statement. "Understanding this as a hate crime will help people to see the seriousness of these incidents and hopefully encourage more women to come forward and report offenses.”
The change dates back to 2014, when police officials attended the launch of a hate crime research project that was commissioned by the local branch of community organizing group Citizens UK. The following year, Nottinghamshire Police and the Nottingham Women’s Center hosted the Nottinghamshire Safer for Women Conference, featuring testimony from "victims of misogynistic hate crime," police said in a release.
Project teams were created to form a new policing policy and training packages.
A female BBC reporter covering the 2015 conference was harassed by a man as she reported from outside the event. The exchange was caught on camera.
Advocacy group Hollaback! and Cornell University conducted an international survey into street harassment, and found that 90 percent of women in the United Kingdom first experienced street harassment when they were younger than 17. (That's from a sample size of 803 participants.)
While Nottinghamshire is the first in England to "recognize misogyny as a hate crime," the department said, some European nations already have such laws on the books. Last year, Portugal made verbal sexual abuse a crime.
In 2014, Belgium criminalized certain kinds of sexual harassment, whether in-person or online, and made it punishable with a fine or a prison sentence of up to a year. The Belgian law makes it a crime to "make a gesture or statement that is clearly intended to express contempt for one or more people of a different gender on the basis of their gender or to make them appear inferior or reduce them to their sexual dimension in a way that constitutes a serious attack on their dignity," Belgian newspaper Flanders Today reported. Insults aimed at men are also covered under the law.
Some have criticized the Belgian law as too broad and encroaching on speech, while others worried such harassment is so prevalent that enforcing the mandate would be too difficult.
The new law came after a Belgian filmmaker used a hidden camera to record the responses she received while walking down the street. The movie sparked a debate in Belgium and beyond (and it wasn't without controversy; the filmmaker denied charges of racism as many of the men shown were of north African descent.)
A similar video in the United States, "10 Hours of Walking," also sparked a national debate around the pervasiveness of catcalling (and some similar conversations around race).
In the United States, many states have hate crime laws that call for additional penalties for those convicted of crimes who targeted victims on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion, and in some states, gender and gender identity, too. Federally, the FBI has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”
"Hate itself is not a crime — and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties," according to the agency.
And while threatening speech can have criminal consequences in the United States, the standard for what constitutes that speech is quite high.
Back in Nottinghamshire, police officials said domestic abuse would not be included in the new misogyny hate crime policy, "as it is dealt with comprehensively within its own procedure."