There is absolutely no place in society for harassment or violence, especially based on their sex and gender.
I am encouraged that in the past few years the Government has taken a number of actions to address some of the most sickening issues facing women and girls. For example, the Voyeurism (Offences) Act criminalises the reprehensible behaviour of up-skirting, with the Domestic Abuse Act introducing new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders. The Domestic Abuse Act also widened revenge porn laws to include threats to disclose intimate images with the intention to cause distress.
As you are aware, during the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court (PCSC) Bill’s passage through Parliament, Baroness Newlove tabled an amendment which would make misogyny a hate crime.
However, the independent Law Commission has been clear this could be damaging to the prosecution of sexual offences and hinder efforts to tackle hate crime more broadly. Whatever the motivation, we cannot allow a law to pass that is counterproductive and even harmful to victims of domestic and sexual abuse. We owe it to women and girls to ensure the law protects them and not their abusers.
Rape Crisis England & Wales have echoed this position saying that “rape prosecutions are already at an all-time low, and we believe adding sex/gender as a protected characteristic would further complicate the judicial process and make it even harder to secure convictions." and “that a hate crime framework is not suitable for VAWG”. While Women’s Aid have also said that “including VAWG crimes within the hate crime framework could undermine the understanding of VAWG as inherently misogynistic”.
The horrific cases of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa started a much-belated national conversation about the dangers women face at home, on the streets and online, and while I welcomed the publication of the subsequent ‘Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy’, there is more we need to do to put an end to this violence, enhance support for victims and survivors of abuse, bring more perpetrators to justice and reduce the prevalence of VAWG.
Despite the Law Commission's recommendation that the hate crime framework is not the most appropriate vehicle to tackle VAWG, I am encouraged that it did recommend providing greater protection on the basis of sex and gender, including by extending the offence of stirring up hatred to cover stirring up hatred on the grounds of sex or gender. This aims to tackle the rise of extremist misogynist “incel” ideology, and its potential to lead to serious criminal offending. It also recommended that the Government review the need for a specific offence to tackle public sexual harassment, which ministers have committed to do.
This sits alongside the Government’s existing commitment to looking carefully at where there may be gaps in existing law and how a specific offence for public sexual harassment (street harassment) could address those. Indeed, I warmly welcome the Government's commitment to launch a public consultation on this matter before the Summer Recess. This is an important issue, and it is critical that the Government takes the time, working with the Law Commission, to ensure that any potential legislation will actually work to protect victims. For these reasons, I felt unable to support Baroness Newlove’s amendment when the PCSC Bill returned to the House of Commons.
I am glad that the Law Commission’s considered findings will inform future Government policy on this issue. Please be assured that I will be following developments closely.