The state should focus on violence against women — not hurt feelings
Here is a little-known fact: in the last year, there were 10,679 prosecutions for hate crime in England and Wales, leading to 9,263 convictions. It is a strikingly high success rate, especially when compared to the figures for rape. According to the most recent statistics, 61,158 rapes were reported to the police in 2020-21, but there were only 1,557 prosecutions — and a mere 1,109 convictions.
Now some commentators are up in arms because the Law Commission, an independent body that recommends changes to the law, has rejected a proposal to make misogyny a hate crime. Many women, however, are relieved that the commission hasn’t given in to lobbying. While superficially appealing, the change would not tackle the central problem, which is the staggering failure of police and prosecutors to enforce existing laws.
Another problem with making misogyny a hate crime is that some people who argue for the change are explicit in saying that protection should apply to trans women — male-bodied individuals who identify as women. They are already covered by existing hate crime legislation, where transgender identity is a protected characteristic, so this seems more like an attempt to change the legal definition of the word ‘woman’ than anything else. What a change in the law would do is open up a new front in the war on gender critical women, who would be the target of vexatious complaints from trans activists.
The Law Commission is aware of the risk and has proposed giving legal protection to gender critical views, such as the belief (biological reality, to be more accurate) that humans cannot change sex. It says something about the state we’re in that such views even need to be protected, but would it extend to someone who refuses to use female pronouns in court for the trans-identified male accused of raping her? Or a woman doing the same on social media?
The answer is far from clear, not least because the Law Commission has made an additional proposal that laws against ‘stirring up hatred’ should be extended to cover ‘sex or gender’ as well as race, religion and sexual orientation. Such offences are entirely subjective and very likely to have a chilling effect on free speech. Only last month, police investigated Crystal Palace fans who unfurled a banner criticising human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia during a match with Newcastle United, which had just been bought by Saudi investors.
The case was quickly dropped, but experience from other countries shows how nebulous offences can be misused. Also last month, the Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk was put under investigation again for supposedly insulting the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in his latest novel. I attended a hearing in a similar case against Pamuk in Istanbul in 2005, a period when writers and academics faced months of investigation — and racked up substantial lawyers’ fees. Few went to prison but the investigation became the punishment in such cases. That’s what happened to a Scottish woman, Marion Millar, earlier this year; she had to crowd-fund her legal fees after being accused of posting ‘transphobic’ content online, and faced months of anxious waiting before the case was dropped.
It is surely time to think again about the entire concept of hate crime. Thousands of actual crimes are going unpunished, including rape and domestic violence, while the police use valuable resources to investigate subjective ‘offences’. They may find it easier to get results — the figures certainly suggest as much — but some very dangerous offenders are going free to commit further attacks. If the state is serious about tacking misogyny, investigating violence against women — not hurt feelings — should be the priority.