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Landmark hate crime review backs new LGBT+ protections – but ‘fails’ on misogyny

Mishti Ali December 7, 2021
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A woman holding a sign with 'protect your daughters' crossed out, and 'educate your son' written underneath

A woman holding a placard against sexual assault during a Reclaim These Streets protest on April 11th, 2021. (Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto via Getty)

A report carried out on behalf of the government has called for more protections for victims of anti-LGBT+ hate crimes – but has been criticised for not going far enough to tackle misogyny.

The Law Commission, which carried out the report, is an independent body that advises the government. Its recommendations come as anti-LGBT+ hate crimes have been on the rise.

In a report published Tuesday (7 December), the Commission recommended that victims of homophobic and transphobic hate crimes are given the same protections as victims of crimes based on race or religion.

It also recommended that disabled people are given these same protections.

As things stand, only stirring up hatred in respect of race, religion and sexual orientation is criminalised. This means that there is no equivalent offence for disability or transgender identity – something that should change following this report. Also, aggravated offences only cover crimes where race or religion is a factor.

“Hate crime laws don’t protect all five protected characteristics to the same degree,” the report reads.

“This current hierarchy of protection is widely seen as unfair and sends a distinctly negative message to victims of hate crimes on the basis of disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity. It also makes the laws needlessly complicated and is a cause of confusion.

“The Law Commission has recommended that across the various hate crime laws (including aggravated offences and stirring up offences) all protected characteristics should be treated equally. This would provide much greater protection for victims of disability and LGBT+ hate crime in particular.”

Stonewall said in a statement that the recommendations “send out a clear message: you can believe what you like, but whipping up hatred against trans people is not okay”.

Misogyny won’t become a hate crime

The report also addressed the issue of rising threat of “extreme misogyny”, but did not advise that misogyny should be considered a hate crime in itself, to the disappointment of women’s rights campaigners.

According to the Law Commission, greater measures are necessary to combat misogyny. Among its recommendations are that ministers set up a review into the need for public sexual harassment to be treated as a separate offence.

It also recommended that people who “stir up” hostility based on sex or gender should be prosecuted for hate crimes.

The threshold for prosecutions over hate speech is high, with fewer than 10 prosecutions a year. 

However, the Commission emphatically argued that “sex or gender” should not be added to the list of protected characteristics for aggravated offences, and its recommendations do not extend to criminalising “offensive” or sexist remarks.

Law Commission report ‘ignores experiences of women from minority communities’

Campaigners have accused the Commission of a U-turn. Just last year, a previous report argued that misogyny should be treated equal to any other form of discrimination when the motivating factor for an offence.

“The report from the Law Commission will leave many women disappointed and frustrated,” read a statement from nearly 20 women’s rights and hate crime groups and campaigners, including Stella Creasy MP and Stonewall.

“Their U-turn on making misogyny a hate crime not only fails to recognise how hatred drives crimes against women but also means they have offered no clear alternative policies to help address widespread concerns about the lack of action by the criminal justice system.”

The group added that the review “is too narrow and doesn’t recognise the value of including misogyny to enable recording of incidents which are currently invisible. By not joining together hate crime legislation it especially ignores the experiences of women from minority communities who experience hatred based on multiple factors yet all too are let down by the criminal justice system because they do not fit their tick boxes.”

Women holding placards and crying
A Reclaim These Streets demonstration in the city of Tilburg, on April 11th, 2021. (Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto via Getty)

The Law Commission argued that that the addition of “sex and gender” to the list of protected characteristics “would be ineffective at protecting women and girls and in some cases, counterproductive”.

The report also argued that doing so would create “unhelpful hierarchies of victims” and make it more difficult for victims to successfully prosecute perpetrators.

Currently, hate crimes in both England and Wales generally refer to the escalation of existing crimes due to prejudice. This includes such crimes as assault and criminal damage. 

Professor Penney Lewis, criminal law commissioner at the Law Commission said: “Hate crime has a terrible impact on victims and it’s unacceptable that the current levels of protection are so inconsistent. Our recommendations would improve protections for victims while also ensuring that the right of freedom of expression is safeguarded.”

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