We need fundamental reforms to address the epidemic of violence against women
The last Law Commission review of hate crime, published in 2014, still sits unused on a dusty shelf at the Ministry of Justice, so it is hard to have confidence this one will be any different.
In recent months, the murders of Sarah Everard, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry have shown in sharp relief the challenges of keeping women safe.
The Femicide Census highlights that a woman is murdered approximately once every three days. Since the government promised they would review how crimes against women and girls were dealt with, more than 3 million have been committed. As the horrific murder of Sabina Nessa this week has shown, despite the pledges to listen, learn and act, the deaths continue.
Last week her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services called for this to be given the same priority for action as terrorism. Their report was a devastating indictment of the variation between how and if the abuse, harassment and attacks women face will be investigated let alone solved by their local police forces.
Time and time again the approach to violence against women reflects prejudice, not policy
It is not the only body calling for systemic change to address these issues. Since 2018, the Law Commission has been investigating the case for making misogyny a hate crime within both our policing and legal system. Research shows recording where crimes are motivated by hatred based on someone’s sex or gender improves the willingness of women to come forward to report such crimes and helps police forces recognise patterns of offending.
The government has now agreed to ask police forces to record crimes motivated by misogyny in autumn this year but is resisting giving courts the ability to increase the penalties for such crimes - passing up the opportunity to send a clear message about the seriousness and unacceptability of these offences.
Everyone from the Law Commission and major unions to a former Lord Chief Justice and former Chief Constables have called for this change. But rather than act, the government is continuing to drag its feet, saying it must wait for a Law Commission review of hate crime. The last such review, published in 2014, still sits unused on a dusty shelf at the Ministry of Justice, so it is hard to have confidence this one will be any different.
Time and time again the approach to violence against women reflects prejudice, not policy. This week Dominic Raab, the new Secretary of State for Justice, claimed funding more street lighting was the way to tackle these harms – as if the violence and abuse women face is only in dark alleys and late nights.
This is not just a problem with politicians. The police themselves have questions to answer too. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and her team have repeatedly resisted recording violence motivated by misogyny – ignoring the evidence from other parts of the country of the benefit of doing so.
Yesterday, my colleagues managed to secure an urgent question in parliament on these issues - a fantastic opportunity to hold Ministers to account and make the case for changing the law. Because I have a newborn child and so have a proxy vote, I was blocked from taking part. No other form of proxy voting had such a restriction, but the parliamentary authorities see no problem in making the place that sets the laws on maternity cover be the only workplace in the UK where a new mother is prevented from trying to do work during her maternity leave.
Fortunately, Lord Russell and Lord Judge have pledged to take up this matter in the House of Lords in the Policing Bill, refusing to let the government ignore the widespread support for change – anyone interested can sign up for updates as the legislation progresses here.
Rather than adhoc interventions, we need fundamental reforms which act to address the epidemic of violence women face. With half of women reporting they feel unsafe in public, it is time to ensure everyone in our communities can live free from fear.
Stella Creasy is the Labour MP for Walthamstow.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.