The police force in the British county Nottinghamshire announced on July 13 that, in partnership with the Nottingham Women’s Centre, misogynistic acts can now be reported and investigated as hate crimes. The Nottinghamshire Police defined such acts as “behaviour targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman,” according to their press release.
The definition includes undesirable verbal, physical, and electronic interactions. This means that persistent catcalling and wolf-whistling, revenge porn, and social media abuse could all fit under the new definition.
However, Jack Storey, a spokesperson for the Nottinghamshire Police, clarified with Global News that isolated instances of catcalling are not in fact “illegal.” According to Storey, the department would only become concerned if, for example, “a woman is walking to work and there is an individual on their route who wolf-whistles at them every morning.” Storey explained that the situation would be cause for investigation if the woman then felt compelled to follow another route to avoid the harassment.
This change in Nottinghamshire, while the first of its kind in England and admittedly pretty progressive, could go even further.
Firstly, it could crack down on isolated instances of catcalling and whistling as well. Why should women be forced to wait until they fear for their physical safety before they can report harassment? How many days in a row of catcalling constitutes enough of a threat before they can feel validated in reporting it to the police?
Secondly, the current definition heavily subscribes to the gender binary. People of all genders are capable of misogynistic harassment — not just men — and the definition should reflect this reality.
A message that the catcallers, revenge-porn-posters, and the up-the-skirt-photo-snappers of Canada deserve to hear.
That being said, Canada, which has similar issues with harassment, should look to the British county as an example.
According to a British study published in March of this year, “85 percent of women [in the UK] aged 18–24 have experienced unwanted sexual attention.” Sexual assault and harassment also occur in Canada. According to a 2015 survey from the Canadian Women’s Foundation, less than 10 percent of sexual assaults are reported to the police. Confirming that misogynistic harassment won’t be tolerated by law enforcement could help to alleviate some of the shame and stigma women face when discussing their experiences. This could potentially encourage women to report their harassers more frequently.
Additionally, provided that the police will actually investigate reports of street harassment, and that this isn’t just an empty promise, the new classification sends a message to the people of Nottinghamshire that misogyny will not be tolerated — a message that the catcallers, revenge-porn-posters, and the up-the-skirt-photo-snappers of Canada deserve to hear, too.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m skeptical of police and the assurances they offer to the public. It’s too early to tell if Nottinghamshire Police will actually follow through with the new policy; however, Sue Fish, the chief constable of the force, inspires some optimism, if only because she herself can speak to women’s experiences.
In the Nottinghamshire Police press release, Fish described misogynistic harassment as “absolutely unacceptable” and “extremely distressing.” She also acknowledged that many women experience such harassment on a daily basis. Fish also tweeted later that she was “proud to be [the] first force in the country to tackle misogynistic hate crime.” Hopefully, it isn’t the last.