“What about women?”
As the previous centre manager at Nottingham Women’s Centre (NWC), Mel Duffill-Jeffs found herself asking this question quite often. She asked it yet again one afternoon in early 2014 when she met with Nottingham Citizens: a non-partisan alliance of civil society institutions comprised of trade unions, faith groups, charities, schools and universities. Nottingham Citizens were about to launch a Commission into hate crime in Nottingham, having identified this as an issue of importance to Nottingham’s communities.
Whilst Nottingham Citizens were already aware that hate crime impacts women differently and had approached NWC to ensure women’s experiences were included, Mel was referring to something else when she asked herself ‘what about women?’: “What about the things women experience because they’re women?”
In her role at Nottingham Women’s Centre and as a lifelong feminist campaigner, Mel had conversations with women every day, and had heard again time and again about women’s experiences of being shouted at, harassed, threatened, cat-called, groped, and objectified. These were and are the behaviours that all women seemed to experience, normalised to such a degree that there was no language to talk about them. Instead, there was an understanding that this was just part and parcel of being a woman.
Nottingham Citizens invited Mel to be one of the Commissioners leading their No Place for Hate inquiry into hate crime – and so began the journey of misogyny being recognised as a hate crime in Nottinghamshire.
The No Place for Hate report was launched by Nottingham Citizens in late 2014. At the time misogyny was being missed through police recording systems, and the report marked the start of recommendations to change this.
What we did
Like all effective interventions, a strong evidence-base was critical. Numerous studies found that women of all ages had experienced unwanted sexual harassment. As a result, women consistently reported having to alter their behaviours to avoid misogynistic incidents.
In March 2015, a study of 500 Nottingham University and Nottingham Trent students further underlined the need for a change in hate crime policy. The results showed that 95% of women had experienced some form of sexual harassment. Furthermore, half the participants said they felt that the incident would not be taken seriously if reported.
It was overwhelmingly evident that misogynistic incidents and crimes were becoming normalised in day-to-day life. Therefore Nottingham Women’s Centre, in collaboration with Nottingham Citizens, put forward the case that misogyny was a missing category under hate crime law and that given the scale of women suffering from it, policies should be revised. As a result, Nottingham Women’s Centre began work with Nottinghamshire Police to pilot recording misogyny as a category of hate crime in Nottinghamshire.
What followed was the creation of our Safer for Women project in 2016, thanks to funding from the Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner Community Safety. That same year, we were also granted £4,000 to deliver an event with 80 delegates from partner and stakeholder agencies which emphasised the need for individuals, agencies and business’ to make a pledge towards a new Women’s Safety Charter for Nottinghamshire.
The awareness raised from the event then resulted in Chief Constable, Chris Eyre, signing Nottinghamshire Police up to taking misogyny hate crime seriously, making Nottinghamshire a safer place for women to live, work and socialise in as a result.
Where are we now?
There has been overwhelming public support for the Misogyny Hate Crime Policy, indicating a cultural shift away from downplaying experiences. The biggest impact from the policy has been on individual women’s confidence as they move around the city. This policy gives women the reassurance that reporting will be taken seriously by the police and it means women no longer have to risk their own safety when challenging behaviour.
A survey made after the categorisation by Nottingham Trent University and The University of Nottingham showed that of those who reported misogyny hate crimes, 75% said they had a positive experience with the police.
Since the Nottinghamshire pilot scheme began, support for the policy has grown across the country and in September 2020, The Law Commission released its consultation on hate crime with the added reform to protect women nationally against misogyny for the first time.
Still a long way to go
It is key that in times of austerity, Nottinghamshire’s police force continues to be supportive of hate crime incidents. But whilst so many of us morally disagree with misogyny, focus groups have shown that harassment of women and girls in public spheres remain an endemic, with 9/10 respondents in one survey having either experienced or witnessed street harassment.
In Nottingham, many people remain unaware that misogyny is a hate crime which leads to significant underreporting. In a survey conducted by Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham, only 6.6% of victims surveyed reported incidents of misogyny to the police. It is essential therefore that organisations continue to raise awareness of the Misogyny Hate Crime policy with a focus on:
- De-normalising hate crime
- Increasing awareness and knowledge of the policy
- Increasing understanding around the term misogyny
- Continuing positive narratives from police to build confidence in the community