POLITICS
04/09/2018 14:55 BST | Updated 04/09/2018 16:41 BST

Labour 'To Back' Plans To Make Misogyny A Hate Crime In Vote On Upskirting Bill

Pressure now on Theresa May to include hatred of women in law review.

Leon Neal via Getty Images

A campaign to make misogyny a hate crime has received a major boost with Labour set to use legislation on ‘upskirting’ to press for a wider law change. 

The party’s frontbench is expected to give its full backing, including a likely three-line whip, to amendments by Stella Creasy to the Voyeurism Bill, a senior source has told HuffPost UK.

Creasy’s proposals would make hatred of women an “aggravating” factor in cases where sexually intrusive images are taken, giving the courts powers to impose heftier sentences.

They would also require police forces to compile evidence of wider misogyny including cat-calling, wolf-whistling and other street harassment, as well as taking photos up women’s skirts in public places.

With Labour’s official backing, several backbench Tories could support the plan too, putting huge pressure on Theresa May to clarify whether the government will whip against the proposal.

The Prime Minister ensured the government drafted its own legislation on upskirting after “dinosaur” backbencher Sir Christopher Chope sparked huge controversy by blocking Lib Dem Vera Hobhouse’s private members’ bill this summer.

PA Wire/PA Images
Sir Christopher Chope was labelled a 'dinosaur' after he blocked the private members bill

The Law Commission is already calling for all hate crime legislation in Britain to be reviewed. Creasy wants a pledge from the government to include misogyny  in the review.

A senior Labour source said the party would “almost certainly” back the Creasy amendment and that the ball would then be in the government’s court.

Shadow Equalities Minister Dawn Butler said: “The scale of misogyny in our society must no longer be tolerated.

“There needs to be a fundamental review of all hate crime and sexual offences legislation to ensure victim protection and access to justice.

“Misogyny, particularly new issues like image-based sexual abuse or ‘revenge porn’, must be part of that discussion and the Government must immediately launch a consultation on reforming all aspects of these laws.”

Creasy told HuffPost: “It’s great if the Labour leadership is listening to the concerns of men and women across the country who think that in the 21st century we should be able to equally walk down the street in safety.

“This puts pressure on Theresa May to listen to the Law Commission which wants to review this. I’ve told ministers that if you compel the Commission to do this then I will withdraw the amendment.”

Creasy added that the current law protects women in the workplace from discrimination on grounds of their sex, but not in the court room – with upskirting, street harassment, sexually based violence and abuse “a part of life for so many”.

A Labour spokesperson said the party did not comment on whipping arrangements but confirmed: “Labour supports the bill and the amendment.”

ITV
Gina Martin, a victim of upskirting who has campaigned to outlaw the practice

Downing Street said on Tuesday that May was personally committed to protecting women from the practice, but refused to say whether Creasy’s plan would get ministerial support.

“The PM has set out that getting this legislation through is a priority. Campaigners like Gina Martin have shown reserves of courage in campaigning on this issue,” a spokesman said. 

“We want to see the bill passed as soon as possible so we have the punishment that reflects the seriousness of the crime and gives more victims of upskirting the confidence to come forward.

“In terms of individual amendments, we will consider them in the usual way.”

No 10′s refusal to rule out the Creasy amendment appeared to mark a new flexibility on the issue, as campaigners were braced for a government whip against the plans.

In 2016 Nottinghamshire Police became the first force in the country to enable women and girls to report cases of misogyny under their local hate crime policy. Since then, five of the 46 police forces across the UK have adopted the scheme.

Research by Nottingham Women’s Centre found nearly half of women in the city had experienced unwanted sexual advances (48.9 percent).

The government is also facing calls from former cabinet minister Maria Miller, who chairs the Women and Equalities Select Committee, to widen the offence to include distribution of the images taken by upskirting.

Backers of the amendment say it allows women to build on the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that have spread across the globe in the past year.

Sam Smethers, of the Fawcett Society, said: “Up-skirting objectifies women, is a misogynistic act and should be recognised as such. Fawcett supports Stella Creasy’s amendment because unless we recognise the scale of misogyny in our society we won’t begin to address it.”

Across the UK, surveys have found that a huge majority of young women (85 percent) and nearly half (45 percent) of all women have been sexually harassed in public places. Yet only one in ten received help after these incidents. 

A Labour spokesperson said the party did not comment on whipping arrangements but confirmed: “Labour supports the bill and the amendment.”