Nicola Sturgeon backs new report recommending proposal to criminalise misogyny

Current laws are “failing” women and girls, Nicola Sturgeon said, as she welcomed a new report recommending misogyny be criminalised as part of “radical” legal reforms to protect females from abuse.

The Scottish First Minister spoke out following publication of “ground-breaking” work which called for legislation to be introduced that would create a new statutory aggravation of misogyny.

Ms Sturgeon explained: “This would not criminalise misogyny per se, but it would allow crimes, assault for example, which are motivated by misogyny, to be treated more seriously in sentencing.”

The report on Misogyny and Criminal Justice in Scotland follows a year-long investigation by an eight-strong working group chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC.

It also proposes there should be new offences created of stirring up hatred against women and girls to tackle, amongst other things, the threat from incel (involuntary celibates) and other extremist groups.

A new offence of public misogynistic harassment and another of issuing threats of, or invoking, rape or sexual assault or disfigurement of women and girls, online and offline, should also be brought in, the report recommended.

Ms Sturgeon pledged these would be given “full consideration” by the Scottish Government, as she praised the report for giving “powerful voice to the stark realities of everyday life for women”.

The First Minister stated: “It recognises that misogyny is endemic and it blights the lives of women every single day.

“It rightly points out that not all men are misogynist, but all women do experience misogyny.

“It also recognises the power of the law to drive social and cultural change and concedes, for women and girls, our law is currently failing.”

Speaking about the problem of misogyny, Baroness Kennedy (pictured) said: “This is an issue that affects 52% of the population. The daily grind of sexual harassment and abuse degrades women’s lives, yet it seems to be accepted as part of what it means to be a woman.

“The failure to acknowledge the ramifications of what is seen as low-level harassment is just one of the ways in which the criminal justice system fails women. What is seen as low-level harassment is often the subsoil from which more grave crimes emerge.

“The current system allows abhorrent behaviour to be missed, ignored, and normalised. The women we spoke to through this investigation told us: enough is enough; something must be done.

“We are recommending that the Scottish Government creates a specific piece of legislation for women – to protect them from the daily abuses which blight their lives.

“This malign conduct does not happen to men in any comparable way. That is why the new law should be created exclusively for women, and those perceived to be women, reflecting the inherently gendered nature of the problem we have been asked to address.”

She said that such a law will establish new boundaries and will, importantly, “shift the dial towards perpetrator behaviours” and away from the current focus on women as victims.

The report, published on International Women’s Day, does not recommend the addition of gender as a characteristic to existing hate crime legislation as the working group feels that misogyny is “so deeply rooted in our patriarchal ecosystem” that it requires a more fundamental set of responses.

South of the border, MPs last month rejected attempts to make misogyny a hate crime, voting 314 to 190 to remove a Lords amendment which sought to make misogyny a hate crime from the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

The report found that being on the receiving end of misogynistic behaviour is the routine experience of women and girls in Scotland and that the experiences of LGBTI+ and minority ethnic women and girls tend to be even worse than those of their straight, white counterparts.

It suggests that a 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, with misogyny defined as prejudice and/or malice and/or contempt towards women.

Police Scotland Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said: “Acknowledging misogyny as a human rights issue is a hugely important milestone in all our efforts to address sex inequalities and tackle misogyny in Scotland.

“It sends a strong message that misogyny and sexism are unacceptable, and that there should be no place in Scotland for discrimination of any kind.

“Police Scotland will engage positively in the next stages of taking forward Baroness Kennedy’s recommendations, and this will present significant implications for us all. Societal change is clearly long overdue.

“Police Scotland is at the forefront of upholding human rights every day, and we are committed to learning and improving as we build trust and confidence in policing across all our communities.”

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