Amendment 114F

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Report (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 17 January 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Newlove Baroness Newlove Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 6:00, 17 January 2022

My Lords, one of the themes that has come up again and again when we debate this Bill has been the need to do more to protect women and girls from the violence they face on an all too frequent basis. I start by paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Bertin and others across the House who have already made some tangible improvements to the Bill to ensure it does more to tackle violence against women and girls. Today, I hope we can provide a platform to underpin this work by recognising the cause of much of this violence: the hatred, abuse and entitlement, the misogyny—for that is what it is—that some hold in their hearts towards women. If we want to restore confidence for women that the police and the criminal justice system want to keep them safe from those who would do them harm, we need to start by naming it and then doing something about it.

In January 2021, UN Women UK showed in a poll of 1,000 UK women that although 80% of women of all ages said that they had experienced sexual harassment in public places, 96% of respondents did not report these incidents and 45% said that was because it would not change anything. Too often when it comes to violence against women, society demands the perfect victim before we act. We question women. We talk of self-defence lessons and, most recently, flagging down buses if they are worried. We ask, “What were you wearing? Had you been drinking? Where were you going?” We make the violence and abuse they experienced about them and whether they have provoked, or what they did to keep themselves safe.

Amendment 114F seeks to flip the script and ask what the police and the criminal justice system can do to catch those who put women at risk—to stop making women responsible and to hold those who commit these crimes accountable. It would do this by building on years of policing good practice. It is perverse that, despite 3 million crimes being committed against women in just three years, our legal and policing systems do not routinely recognise what we all know is blindingly obvious: the deep-rooted hostility towards women that motivates many of these crimes. As a society we have rightly taken steps to acknowledge the severity of racist or homophobic crimes, but have not yet acted on crimes driven by hatred of women.

Those who have listened to previous debates on this matter will know of the work started in Nottingham to address this issue, driven by the former police chief constable, Sue Fish, and rolled out to other police forces in England and Wales, including North Yorkshire, and Avon and Somerset. By recording when crimes are motivated by misogyny and training officers to recognise and record it, they have seen a substantial increase in the confidence of women to come forward and report crimes—not catcalling, although we know that shouting abuse in the street is a criminal offence, but rapes, sexual assault and harassment. This is the case not just in Nottingham. Women’s Aid reports that police forces that are now recording misogyny have not seen an influx in reporting of wolf-whistling, but instead receive a growing number of reports of serious crimes—a sign of the challenge we face and the value in recognising misogyny as a problem.

My amendment is in two parts. The first should be uncontroversial, as it simply seeks to guarantee what the Government have already promised: that all police forces will collect and report data on crimes motivated by hostility towards the sex or gender of the victim. This means that crimes motivated by misandry could also be recorded, but the evidence from those areas taking this approach is that between 80% and 90% of the victims are women.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council has, in its new violence against women and girls framework, recognised the need to target resources on high-risk spaces. It has also supported this approach and included sex or gender in hate crime reporting. It knows that data is a central part of the fight against any kind of crime. Without it, police forces are left stumbling in the dark with no way of knowing where or how to best deploy their resources to keep people safe. Noble Lords will remember that, during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, the Minister promised that this would happen by autumn 2021, yet here we are in 2022, albeit in January, still waiting for it to happen. With a quarter of all forces already doing this, the three-quarters of women in England and Wales who live in the other areas have a right to expect better. Putting this in the Bill will ensure that we get it right.

The second part of the amendment would use this information in our criminal justice system by allowing courts to consider whether misogyny—or misandry for that matter—was an aggravating factor when an offence was committed. Hate crime legislation protects people targeted because of their identity. We use it to send a powerful message that attacking someone simply because you do not like the colour of their skin or their sexuality is not acceptable and to give higher sentences accordingly. Yet hate crime law recognises that someone can be a victim of more than one type of hate crime, except if the part of their identity being targeted is their being a woman. Muslim women may be victims of hate crime because they are Muslim and because they are women. Some 42% of black and ethnic minority women aged between 14 and 21 report experiencing unwanted attention at least once a month. Many women and girls with intellectual disabilities also experience abuse for the dual reasons of their disability and their sex or gender. Including sex or gender in the list of characteristics protected, as this amendment would do, would close that loophole and mean that victims of these crimes would not have to fit a tick box to be seen.

Finally, the amendment would also ensure that this approach does not lead to lower sentences for offences involving serious sexual violence or domestic abuse. Building on the work done by my noble friend Lady Bertin and the clear definitions provided of serious offences involving violence against women and girls in this legislation, Amendment 114F specifically disapplies the sentencing provisions from serious sexual and domestic offences. For the avoidance of doubt, that is not because these crimes cannot be motivated by misogyny. We carve out certain offences from other hate crime laws around religion and racial hatred to ensure that sentences are not inadvertently reduced; rather, they are enhanced when tariffs are applied in court.

This carve-out also answers the concern the Law Commission set out: that in recognising how misogyny drives crime in our criminal justice system, there is no hierarchy of offences. I know that some of my colleagues around the Chamber will want to ask why we are using the phrase “sex or gender”. This is because our focus is on the perpetrator, not the victim. Currently, the Crown Prosecution Service says that a hate crime is

“any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice”.

Perception matters in hate crimes. Whether someone is born a woman or becomes one, if they are targeted for being a woman, being able to record that motivation will help tackle the cause and find those responsible for the harm. Excluding some women from this could give perpetrators a free pass. It risks valuable information about offending patterns being missed, and potentially gives perpetrators a chance further to demean a victim by claiming that they cannot experience misogyny because they are trans.

For too long, violence against women and girls has been consigned to the “too difficult” box and gone unaddressed. The police have started to recognise that this must change, led by the formidable work of Maggie Blyth, Sue Fish and others across the country. Now we must do the same. This amendment is our chance to show the same intent to tackle violence against women and girls wherever it occurs, rather than to continue to defer action; to learn from what works; and to ensure that the law is on the side of women, rather than on that of those who seek to abuse and harass them. It is time for deeds, not words. I beg to move.