A new anti-misogyny law introduced on International Women’s Day would ban street and online harassment of girls and women. The Misogyny and Criminal Justice (Scoland) Act would create a new statutory misogyny aggravation, as well as new offenses related to the harassment and threat of women and girls.
The bill, which was introduced to Justice Secretary Keith Brown and a working group on March 8, aims to crack down on street harassment, sexual assault, and online hate against girls and women. “The police have to make space for... where women are made to feel that their life is under- mined by male conduct that is abusive, humiliating, [and] degrading,” said Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, who set up this act in February of 2021.
The act creates three new offences: stirring up hatred against women and girls; public misogynistic harassment; and issuing threats of, or invoking, rape or sexual assault or disfigurement of women and girls online and offline.
“The potential this new law brings in Scotland ... is a strong and clear signal that misogyny will not be tolerated in our country,” says Fiona Drouet, CEO of the gender-based violence charity EmilyTest. Baroness Kennedy has been a strong advocate of human rights for nearly 50 years, and aims to use this law as a “tool for cultural change” and hopes to “set the bar for change” across the rest of the United Kingdom.
“It is clear to me that to achieve true equality we must continue to think about our messaging and how men’s attitudes to women can be effectively challenged to make women feel safe when going about their everyday lives,” Secretary Brown says.
The anti-misogyny act was introduced in response to the high-profile London killings of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa. Nessa, a primary school teacher, was brutally strangled and killed in London by Koci Selamaj in September on her way to meet a friend at a pub. Everard was kidnapped, raped and murdered by Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, who was then sentenced to life in prison. These stories, which were highlighted in news outlets across the country, caused many revelations about the way that misogyny is embedded in our society. Prior to his crime, Couzens was nicknamed “the rapist” around his office and had been accused of sexual assault, drug abuse, and indecent exposure.
“If you don’t act on the lower level stuff, then it creates a sub-soil from which much more serious crime like rape and homicide takes place,” Baroness Kennedy said.
The bill also ensures protections for transgender individuals and says that “no offence should be created that requires a woman to prove that she is a woman.” In their research, the bill’s working group have also done extensive research into women’s experiences and have discovered that women are not aware of existing laws that might protect them.
Critics of the bill say that it’s a waste of criminal justice money, and they should focus on larger issues. However, Baroness Kennedy argues that these routine abuses “absolutely degrade women’s lives.”She argues that even before it comes to violence, “The police have to make space for... where women are made to feel that their life is undermined by male conduct that is abusive, humiliating, [and] degrading.”
Similar legislation suggested in England by Labour’s Stella Creasy was voted down. However, Baroness Kennedy says the flaw in Creasy’s bill was phrasing misogyny as a “hate crime.” “Misogyny is so deeply rooted in our patriarchal ecosystem that it requires a more fundamental set of responses,” Baroness Kennedy says. The proposal is now in the hands of the Scottish government.
Illustration: Sarah Knight