Catcalling at women and sexist abuse in public should be made hate crimes, a Labour MP has said, calling for a pilot scheme in Nottinghamshire to be made law across the country.
Melanie Onn said wolf-whistling, harassment on public transport and taking photographs up women’s skirts were low-level crimes that often went unreported, and it was important for police to be able to record any increase.
She said she would argue in a parliamentary debate on Wednesday that a change in the law would give women the confidence to report misogynistic behaviour.
“Laws are instrumental in changing attitudes, setting the bar for expectations of treatment and behaviour,” she said. “Our laws are not stagnant. Our laws must reflect the reality of today’s society.
“As the nature of harassment and sex discrimination changes, so must the laws which govern it. If street harassment and continued sex discrimination has no place in our society, let us have laws which fully and properly reflect that.”
A 2016 YouGov survey found 85% of women aged 18-24 said they had received unwanted attention. Onn said this showed most women did not view such approaches as complimentary.
“This is why I am calling on the government to extend the current five strands of hate crime to include misogyny,” she said. “This will mean that incidents of street harassment can be formally logged and women can have greater confidence that their concerns will be taken seriously.”
A recent pilot scheme by Nottinghamshire police treats misogynistic acts as hate crimes. Such acts are defined as “incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman and includes behaviour targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman”.
In the first eight months of the scheme in 2016, 79 misogynistic acts were recorded, 31 of which were categorised as hate crimes.
Onn, the MP for Grimsby, said she did not believe the approach was too heavy-handed, saying women who found catcalling to be a compliment would have no reason to make a complaint. “I do think such women are in the minority,” she told the Grimsby Telegraph.
“In my experience, the first thing you do in that situation is doubt yourself that it is even happening. And even when you know it is, you don’t know if the perpetrator will react aggressively if you do confront them about it.
“This could also include someone who catcalls a woman in the street or follows a woman out of a shop to chat them up when it is unwanted. I think these are warning signs and this change would give women the confidence to report these things.”
The government is considering changing the law around “upskirting” or “downblousing” – taking pictures aimed at intimate areas underneath clothes. Such practices are already illegal in Scotland.
The Conservative MP Maria Miller, chair of the women and equalities select committee, said last month that new laws could help tackle the problem, which she called a “horrific crime”, as they had done with the issue of “revenge pornography”, now the subject of 500 prosecutions annually.
The TV presenter Holly Willoughby recently spoke out about the problem, saying female celebrities were targeted by the paparazzi trying to get a photograph underneath their skirts as they left the Brit awards, despite them having spent the night supporting the Time’s Up campaign against sexual harassment.
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