The 2017-2018 academic year at KCL was one characterized by a new level of political polarization. From the presence of Antifa on our campus, to the brutal discourse over the KCL Safe Space Policy, it seems we at KCL have become a prime example of a recent cultural shift. We have forgotten how to talk to each other.
At the Clandestine this year, we are attempting to close that conversational gap between opposing political views through our support of civil discourse. In our journey towards a solution, the editing staff decided a civil debate between the two largest political parties on campus could be both informative and ameliorative to our political discussions here at university.
This will become a monthly column, with a new topic each month. So, without further ado, here is our first debate!
‘In recent weeks, many MPs have been grappling with the idea of classing misogyny as a hate crime. This highlights a different but integral question: should the police have any involvement in speech that is not hate speech and that does not directly relate to a physically violent crime?’
KCL Labour Party – Written by: Meg Hall
Yes. Unequivocally yes and the law does not currently go far enough in this country, something Labour MP Melanie Onn is working towards changing. An example is street harassment towards women, speech which is not hate speech and does not directly relate to a violent hate crime and is not a criminal offence in the UK. This is something I was prompted to find out after I walked from Monument tube station to my halls of residences one evening. I walked up the escalator someone whispers as they walk up ‘I bet your pussy is tight’. I start to cross London Bridge on the other side, egged on by their mates someone shouts ‘nice legs’. I am almost at my halls when an uber eats driver takes off their helmet and seems to think I will be dragging him back to my room with the pick up line ‘Can I ride that ass?’. As I am sure you and the person on the other side of this debate column would agree it is a regular occurrence for people since they hit puberty. In fact 90% of women have experienced street harassment before their seventeenth birthday. If any of this shocks you, you are more than likely a man. In the U.K. there is nothing I could have done legally in that situation. However if this same incident has occurred in Belgium, Peru and Portugal all of those people could have been fined.
You might think, if it is not hate speech and you are not a victim of physically violent crime then what harm can you really cause to someone? Going back to our example, low level street harassment in the short term when first experienced can make young teenagers feel hatred of themselves and hatred of their bodies. Therefore, it is no surprise that this harassment has been linked to more serious sexual assaults, domestic violence and poor mental health. In a time where an austerity government is shutting domestic violence centres down, cutting down on mental health services and homelessness is increasing rapidly people need to feel the law is on their side against prejudice in the public domain. This would make it unacceptable to cause such harm to people in the long term.
Even after reading how street harassment can be escalate to such poor outcomes for people I can imagine some people are bringing out the latest get out of jail free card in student politics from their back pocket; the freedom of speech issue. To those people I ask how about freedom of movement? Freedom to take whatever route you want to work. Freedom to dress without worry. Freedom to not be told by others to expect unwanted attention from strangers. Freedom to walk around at night and not be intimidated.
Police involvement and criminalising the actions of those who limit the freedom of others will encourage people to report with confidence that action can be taken. Furthermore it shows that as society that we have moved on from the idea that just because speech isn’t hateful or the crime isn’t violent that it is not damaging to society.
KCL Conservative Association – Written by: Melissa Gurusinghe
Misogyny is defined online as a ‘dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women. For me, it includes the phallocratic assumption that ‘fundamentally feminine’ qualities are a disadvantage in society because they gear towards servitude and subordination, endowing only paralyzing agreeability. I also define it as the disproportionate scrutiny and abuse faced by female MPs and the unequal moral, social standards to which women are held relative to men. It manifests in the fact that at least some of my female classmates will walk home with a key clutched between their knuckles today or change their route to avoid walking through a park, in anticipation of harassment. It is the normalisation of the fear women feel on a day-to-day basis. It is the fact that I’m expected to shrug off incursions into my right to basic dignity and common human curtesy because I should take it as a compliment. I define it as the fact that I will likely be condemned for daring to complain about such obviously inconsequential, intangible inconveniences when there are girls in Pakistan being denied an education, when there are women in East Africa having their genitals mutilated. I should just be grateful. It would be much easier, and far less gauche to pretend that misogyny was invented by Hilary Clinton to win the 2016 presidential election. But to do so would be to repress my own experiences and to deny the accounts of every woman I’ve ever known.
Misogyny is real, it exists in the West and it is deeply ingrained. This is not to suggest that ours is a society which does not value women. There are legal measures in place to protect and further their freedoms, rights and aspirations in both the public and private domain; in the form of a plethora of Anti-discrimination laws, Equality acts- in some cases it is taken beyond that, stepping into the realm of Positive action, for example in All-Women Shortlists. Yet evidently, the law is yet to address misogyny in its entirety. Ingrained misogyny needs to be tackled immediately and effectively.
The issue is not about how law enforcement will process all the data which will inevitably follow from a legislation like this, or that this would be another addition to the laundry list of things that our stretched police force would have to deal with- as if these are good reasons to ignore such an endemic issue. Also, the issue is not that this legislation would dictate that Misandry be considered a hate crime for the sake of equality. Theoretically this is fair, even though this, in some ways, intrudes upon the power imbalance in society which the first legislation tried to address, and because in some other ways it is a legal retort to an accusation that was never made- that all men are misogynists or predators-in-waiting. This is an injustice to men.
It is also not about the problems which can in theory arise from partially equating perceived injustices and criminal injustices. It is not about the fact that something like a cat-call is unlikely to affect the wellbeing of a woman on the grand scheme of things. It is about the fact that if we continue the current path, we will have a society in which we are. at best willing to overlook and therefore normalise an endemic issue, at worst we will be a society in which the victims will be at least partially at fault for more serious misogynistic crimes committed against them. To this extent, I do believe that law enforcement should be involved in offences that have a non-physically violent element to them- indeed we have legal repercussions for entirely non-egregious things like littering, fly tipping and noise pollution. These laws are deterrents which signal that Government is serious about upholding certain values which make for a civil society. It represents a legal codified, condemnation of a pressing issue rather than sanguine, abstract imploration. Is it such a flagrant imposition on liberty to extend this curtesy to women?
Indeed, this was the thought process behind the Fawcett Society’s law review last year which advocated the legislation in question, stating that the ‘long term aim is to nudge people towards a culture shift and to reframe misogynist behaviour as socially undesirable’. However, I don’t think that classifying misogyny as a hate crime is the best way to address the problem.
Firstly, prejudice against women is incongruous with the hate crime laws regarding prejudice against the current five protected aggravations, disability, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation and transgender identity. Women are not a minority group in the same way and the injustices they face are far more institutionalized, often far less noticeable and as a result far less enforceable when considering it as an aggravation to a crime committed. There is danger that this new law may misappropriate the term ‘hate crime’ undermining the protection of the current five characteristics, in the way that all new ill-defined, unenforceable laws undermine existing laws. All that is denoted by misogyny is far too broad to be effectively prosecutable in this context. Furthermore, I feel that classifying it as a hate crime misinterprets the problem.
A commonly cited study is Nottinghamshire police’s decision to recognise misogyny as a hate crime in 2016- applying to “incidents ranging from street harassment to physical intrusions on women’s space”. What was recorded was not a spike in complaints about wolf-whistling, but an increase in reporting of more serious crimes relating to verbal or physical harassment and violence. This is surely indicative of a key problem at the heart of this issue- that women believe that they will not be believed or taken seriously if they come forward with their complaints, that they believe that law enforcement and by extension Government, is not listening to them. This disenfranchisement and disillusionment surely contribute to the entrenchment of misogyny in our society. Classifying it as hate crime attempts to solve this issue broadly rather than addressing it specifically- this leaves room for women to be failed by the system and unfortunately for some women to abuse it. If the law is to proceed, it needs to be framed more clearly and needs to represent more than a surface level engagement with the issue of misogyny.