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Government should create three new crimes to tackle misogyny, Kennedy report finds

Helena Kennedy QC

Government should create three new crimes to tackle misogyny, Kennedy report finds

The Scottish Government should introduce a Misogyny and Criminal Justice Act that creates three new criminal offences and makes misogyny an aggravating factor in other crimes so women and girls are explicitly protected by hate crime legislation.

A report issued today by the Misogyny and Criminal Justice in Scotland Working Group, which is led by human rights barrister Helena Kennedy QC, who is also a Labour peer, states that as misogynistic acts, threats, harassment or verbal attacks can violate women’s human rights “it is important that these rights are translated into domestic law”.

The group has recommended that the government creates a specific piece of legislation that would enable judges to consider misogyny as an aggravating factor when sentencing for other crimes – for example, if a perpetrator shouted gender-specific insults while damaging a women’s property.

It also recommends the creation of three new offences: stirring up hatred against women and girls; public misogynistic harassment; and issuing threats of rape, sexual assault or disfigurement of women and girls either online or offline.

Launching the report at an event at Glasgow Women's Library this morning, Kennedy said the working group intended the recommendations to come as a complete package, adding that she would not like to see parliament "cherry pick" from the list.

In a statement, justice secretary Keith Brown said the government would "closely consider" the findings of the report before making any further announcements.

“This is an extremely important piece of work to help inform policy to address the many forms of violence, transgression and abuse experienced by women which may emanate from misogyny and is a milestone in making our society safe, equal and fair," he said.

"It is clear to me that to achieve true equality we must continue to think about our messaging and how men's attitudes to women can be effectively challenged to make women feel safe when going about their everyday lives.

“We welcome the working group’s report on its findings and recommendations and will now carefully consider those before publishing our response in due course.

“We are absolutely clear that women and girls should not experience any form of harassment, abuse or violence, which is why we set up this independent working group and it is fitting its findings were published on International Women’s Day.”

It comes after MPs last week voted to scrap a Lords amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that would have made misogyny a hate crime in England and Wales. The amendment had proposed making misogyny a standalone crime, but that was defeated by 314 votes to 190.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats had supported the amendment, but Tory policing minister Kit Malthouse said that adding sex or gender to hate-crime laws would be counterproductive.

“The principal reason for this is that it could make it more difficult to prosecute the most serious crimes that harm women and girls, including rape and domestic abuse,” he said.

In terms of the Scottish proposals, Kennedy stressed in her report that misogyny itself is not a crime and that the recommendations do not propose criminalising hateful thinking.

“It is the conduct that flows from hatred that can be criminal, but what goes on in our heads cannot and must not be criminalised,” she wrote.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights rightly protects freedom of thought. We were very clear from the outset that misogyny itself must not be criminalised as it is a way of thinking and freedom of thought must remain sacrosanct.”

However, she added that the group has recommended the new offences and the ability for judges to take misogyny into account when sentencing because “harmful conduct which has its roots in misogyny should have consequences”.

“After much debate we think a distinct and separate statutory misogyny aggravation should be made available in new legislation so that a judge has to take account of the misogynistic nature of conduct when sentencing,” the report states.

Aggravation could be applied to a range of offences, including threatening behaviour or criminal damage, but not to rape, sexual offences or domestic abuse, which, Kennedy said, “are by their nature imbued with misogyny”.

In terms of the specific offences detailed in the report, Kennedy said stirring up hatred against women and girls would be designed to tackle “the threat from incel or other extremist groups”.

“Incel communities are bound together by an ideology which preaches hatred of women; the ideology has inspired deadly attacks and there has been a recent sixfold increase in visits to incel websites. It shows no sign of disappearing,” she said.

A public misogynistic harassment offence could cover behaviour that can already be prosecuted under other laws but would expand the scope of criminal law to “concentrate the minds of investigators and prosecutors”.

Meanwhile, the aim of creating a specific offence related to threats is, Kennedy said, “to stop the weaponising of sexually violent language” that is “growing daily and fills women’s lives with fear and distress, limiting their freedom of movement and liberty”.

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