Talk to almost any woman, and somewhere in her history you will, sadly, find a story of gender-based harm. Like so many others, my own story involves violence and domestic abuse. For us, campaigns against gender-based violence aren't just something we support – they are something we live.
Yesterday (25 November), the UN began its 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. This annual event is in an incredibly important push to smash the stigma that has forced women to suffer in silence for so long.
Here in the UK, the campaign comes against a backdrop of continuing problems. On Thursday, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) announced troubling findings showing that in recent years there has been little change in level of domestic abuse. An estimated two million adults aged 16 to 59 experienced domestic abuse between March 2017 and March 2018. Women were four times more likely than men to have experienced sexual assault by a partner, and were also more likely to experience non-physical abuse, such as emotional or financial abuse. All in all, the report estimated that 1.3 million women (7.9 per cent) had experienced domestic abuse in the last year.
Since first speaking out about my own experiences of domestic violence last year, I have been campaigning to have crimes against women because they are women classed as a hate crime. Whether it’s catcalling in the street or sexual assault, we cannot and should not ignore the fact that women are victims of crimes because of their gender.
While we rightly condemn domestic abuse, the more everyday activities that women face foster a culture in which abuse is more likely. At a time when the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have brought more global attention than ever before to the struggles women face, it is vital that our justice system provides us with a safeguard against abuse.
I was inspired by the hard work of women in Nottingham who successfully petitioned their local police constable to make misogyny a hate crime. As a result, sexist abuse against women is now monitored there and dealt with appropriately – whether that’s a criminal charge, or a conversation about changing behaviour. But the biggest win on this front has been MP Stella Creasy’s work to amend upskirting legislation to make misogyny a hate crime. The public debate this generated led the government to review the case for the classification to be changed; there is now a real possibility that we will see this law changed.
Progress for women is always met with pushback. People have legitimate concerns about the use of police time, but much like a firefighter’s job is to prevent fires as well as to put them out, a police officer’s ability to prevent an act of misogyny from escalating to violent crime is vital to keeping women safe.
Cutting a problem off at the source can lead to less harm down the road and ultimately a culture change. Since measures were introduced in Nottingham, women have reported that when they took men to task for their behaviour they were embarrassed and apologetic. There was no need to press charges and women feel safer walking down the street as a result.
To measure is to manage. Right now the Home Office doesn’t record statistics on the level of misogyny women face, because there is no way of tracking it. By taking a common-sense approach to this problem, not only will we make women feel safer in the short term, we will better know how to tackle acts of misogyny in the long term. And that will make the UK a safer place for us all.