People who “stir up” hostility on the basis of sex or gender should be prosecuted for hate crimes, a review carried out for the government says.
The Law Commission argued this was needed in England and Wales to combat a “growing threat” of “extreme misogyny”.
But it did not suggest treating all offences motivated by misogyny – anti-women prejudice – as hate crimes, which has angered campaign groups.
The Home Office promised to look “carefully” at the proposals.
The commission – an independent body that advises government – also recommended changing hate crime laws to give disabled and LGBTQ+ victims the same protections as those targeted over their race or religion.
And it suggested ministers set up a review into the need for a specific offence of public sexual harassment.
But several groups accused the commission of performing a U-turn, as it had recommended in another report last year that misogyny should be treated in the same way as other discrimination when it was the motivation for offences.
In England and Wales, hate crimes generally refer to the aggravation of the seriousness of existing crimes, such as assault, harassment or criminal damage, because of additional “hostility”.
Commission spokesperson Professor Penney Lewis said: “Hate crime has a terrible impact on victims and it’s unacceptable that the current levels of protection are so inconsistent.
“Our recommendations would improve protections for victims while also ensuring that the right of freedom of expression is safeguarded.”
The commission said its recommendations would not criminalise “offensive” comments, or the telling of sexist jokes.”What we are referring to is threatening or abusive material which incites and glorifies violence, including sexual violence, against women and girls, and praises men who murder women,” its report said.
In 2020/21, there were 10,679 prosecutions and 9,263 convictions for hate crimes in England and Wales.
A joint response to the commission’s report by several women’s rights and anti-hate organisations and campaigners said many women would be left “disappointed and frustrated” by it not calling for misogyny to be made a specific hate crime.
“By not joining together hate crime legislation, it especially ignores the experiences of women from minority communities who experience hatred based on multiple factors yet all too are let down by the criminal justice system because they do not fit their tick-boxes,” it added.
However, a spokesperson for one of the groups – the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall – also called the report “a huge leap forward for the safety of LGBTQ+ people in the UK”, adding: “The proposals will also extend existing laws against stirring up hatred to protect trans identities.
“This sends out a powerful message that, while any of us can believe what we want, this does not represent a green light to attack or stir up hatred about trans people.”
‘More to do’
For Labour, shadow equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds said giving extra protections to LGBTQ+ and disabled victims of hate crimes would “fix an injustice that saw perpetrators… get off with lighter sentences”.
Her party colleague, shadow justice secretary Steve Reed, added: “There is still more work to do. Labour wants misogyny to be made a specific form of hate crime so that anyone who targets women on the basis of who they are can be prosecuted, not just those stirring up anti-women hate.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are grateful to the Law Commission for the detailed consideration it has given to its review of hate crime laws.
“The government will consider its proposals carefully and respond to the recommendations in due course.”