08:07, October 16 61 0 theguardian.com

2018-10-16 08:07:06
First thoughts  
 Could hating men become a crime?

Are men the real victims now?

At first glance, it seems as if the home secretary is taking that idea seriously. Sajid Javid has just announced a review of hate crime, to consider whether ageism as well as misogyny should be treated in the same way as racism and homophobia where they lead to criminal offences. But perhaps more surprisingly, he’s also asking the Law Commission to consider adding misandry (hatred of men) to the list too.

First glances, however, are rarely what they seem. Ministers are falling over themselves to play down the importance of tacking misandry onto the consultation at the last minute, insisting it’s “not where the emphasis is”, despite the efforts of a small but vociferous men’s rights lobby. Ministers’ chief concerns are firstly around bullying and abuse of vulnerable elderly people, amid fears that many don’t report it because they are too afraid of repercussions from care workers on whose mercy they depend, and secondly crimes seemingly fuelled by hatred of women, such as online abuse and street harassment.

By throwing misandry into the mix alongside other options such as prejudice against Goths (following the murder of teenager Sophie Lancaster by a gang of thugs in a Lancashire park) ministers seem to be delegating the politically toxic job of sorting all this out to the Law Commission.

And when they do so, the commissioners will presumably bear in mind what exactly a hate crime is. The popular misconception is that it’s the hate itself which is the crime; but that’s not how it works. Hate crime is defined as the committing of an offence – like assault, or harassment, or vandalism – specifically motivated by one of five recognised categories of prejudice. It usually leads to a stiffer sentence to reflect the wider fear and intimidation caused to a community. But without an offence, there’s no hate crime. What that means is that anyone determined to spend their life consumed with bitter hatred of others is welcome to it, so long as they can manage not to end up on the wrong side of the law as a result.

So the test for misandry to join the list would be the same as for any other form of hate: is there evidence of a serious problem with men being stalked, beaten up by strangers on the street, having bricks chucked through their windows or being otherwise persecuted by women motivated by dislike or contempt for men in general? If so, then misandrist hate crime must be acknowledged in law and rooted out. But a general sense that Me Too might have gone too far doesn’t meet the threshold and although some crimes against men clearly are tragically underreported, including male rape and domestic violence, the picture is complicated by cases where both perpetrator and victim are male.

Could any of this work in practice? Nottinghamshire police have already been experimentally logging misogyny-driven offences (ranging from wolf-whistling, taking “upskirting” photos and following women home to sexual assault and online abuse) as hate crimes for two years. An evaluation survey carried out by the University of Nottingham found a narrow majority of residents thought such behaviour was criminal, almost half the rest thought it anti-social, and less than 5% went for “non-criminal” (in other words, not a police matter).That’s a reasonable conclusion since out of 174 incidents reported to police, 73 were logged as actual crimes and the rest as “incidents” – in other words, upsetting to the victims but it’s not obvious any law was broken. The vast majority of residents, interestingly, thought the policy had been a good idea.

West Yorkshire police, meanwhile, have already added ageism to the options on their hate crime reporting app simply because it cropped up so often in reporting.

It’s easy to see how expanding the definition of a hate crime could put serious pressure on an already overworked and underfunded criminal justice system. But the alternative is things being swept under the carpet that shouldn’t be, victims being discouraged from coming forward for fear they won’t be taken seriously, and missed opportunities to understand (and therefore tackle) the root cause of some crimes. It’s going to be an uncomfortable business, recognising just how much violence and distress is driven by irrational hatred of the “other”. But it’s ultimately the only way things are going to change.

Gaby Hinsliff is a Guardian columnist

Topics