The UK government will instruct all police forces in England and Wales to record suspected misogyny as a “hate crime” in the aftermaths of the murder of Sarah Everard earlier this month.
Home Office Minister Baroness Williams made the announcement on Wednesday in the House of Lords during a debate on an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill which would require police to record cases in which crimes were motivated by hatred of someone’s “sex or gender.”
Among all the 43 constabularies in England and Wales, seven already record misogyny as a hate crime and a further four are considering the move, according to The Telegraph.
Williams argued that the amendment “is not needed, as the necessary powers are already in place to require forces to provide information of this kind.”
But she said the government agreed that “data can be helpful and we know that some police forces like Nottingham are already collecting it.”
“I advise the House that, on an experimental basis, we will ask police forces to identify and record any crimes of violence against the person, including stalking and harassment, as well as sexual offences where the victim perceives it to have been motivated by a hostility based on their sex,” she told lawmakers.
Everard, 33, went missing as she walked home from a friend’s house near Clapham Common on March 3. Her body was found several days later in Kent, some 50 miles away.
Wayne Couzens, 48, a serving Metropolitan Police officer, has been charged with her murder and will go on trial on Oct. 25.
The murder triggered calls for tougher action on violence against women. Campaigners say classifying misogyny as a hate crime would help in the detection and prevention of offences including street harassment, sexual assault, rape, and domestic abuse.
“This is a simple measure that we could take now to start making sure every woman is safer at home and on our streets,” said Baroness Kennedy, who tabled the amendment.
But there are concerns about the impact of the proposed measure on free speech.
Also speaking in the House of Lords, Baroness Fox urged the Lords to be “careful about allowing an emotive tragedy to be exploited in a way which will not help women.”
“We already know that the fear of being accused of prejudice or hate is one key factor in chilling free speech. Being officially counted by the police as a bigot would inevitably affect free expression and close down debate,” she said.
She also questioned the reliability of the data collected.
“In the Nottinghamshire pilot on measuring misogynist hate crime that has been mentioned, misogyny can include cat-calling, following, and unwelcome approaches, which can be conflated with flashing, groping, and then more serious assaults. That is all thrown into the misogynist hate-crime category,” she said.
Under the new rule, a case will be recorded as a “hate crime” when the accuser “perceives it to have been motivated by a hostility based on their sex.”
“That is not a reliable way in which to collect accurate data and will not help us understand perpetrators’ behaviour as it is based on perceptions, dangerously subjective, and untestable legally,” said Baroness Fox.
Simon Veazey and Reuters contributed to this report.