Hate crime as expression of dominance and inequality

This is the text of the Nordic Model Now! submission to the All-Parliamentary Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Hate Crime’s inquiry into hate crime in the UK. The inquiry was entitled “How do we build community cohesion when hate crime is on the rise?”

Framing hate crime as an expression of dominance within structural inequality

UK government agencies define hate crime as “any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic.” The ‘personal characteristics’ derive from the nine ‘protected characteristics’ defined in the Equality Act 2010: age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; race; religion or belief; sex; sexual orientation; and pregnancy and maternity. However, hate crimes based on only five of these characteristics are monitored centrally: race or ethnicity; religion or beliefs; sexual orientation; disability; and gender reassignment, which is redefined as ‘transgender identity.’ The Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998[*] provide for increased sentences for convictions where hostility towards one of these five characteristics is found to be a motivating factor. 

As such, hate crime is a generic term for racist, sexist, and homophobic crimes, and those motivated by similar prejudices. The definition lacks recognition that what distinguishes such crimes from ordinary crime is that they are committed by members of groups that have social, cultural, political, and/or economic dominance relative to the target group – for example, white people towards Black or Asian people, men towards women, and heterosexuals towards lesbians and gay people – and that this is a key mechanism by which the dominant group (and individual members of that group) maintain their preferential position and hegemony.

Viewing hate crime as free-floating, irrational hatred of another group obscures this key motivation and the complicity of institutions that are dominated by the dominant group(s) and whose values are consciously or unconsciously biased towards them.

Reni Eddo-Lodge explains in ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race,’ the flaws in the concept of ‘reverse racism,’ and why it cannot be compared to racism:

“There is a difference between racism and prejudice. There is an unattributed definition of racism that defines it as prejudice plus power. Those disadvantaged by racism can certainly be cruel, vindictive and prejudiced. Everyone has the capacity to be nasty to other people, to judge them before they get to know them. But there simply aren’t enough black people in positions of power to enact racism against white people on the kind of grand scale it currently operates at against black people. Are black people over-represented in the places and spaces where prejudice could really take effect? The answer is almost always no.”

A similar analysis can be applied to sexism and misogyny and to hate crime based on disability, for example.

By framing the definition of hate crime as power-neutral, it’s possible for those with more power to claim that those with less power are committing hate crimes against them and for those in authority to accept this and act on it.

For example, we frequently see women and women’s groups being banned from social media when they share a feminist analysis or post statistics on male violence against women and girls (VAWG) – on the basis that it’s hate speech against men; while men and men’s rights activist (MRA) groups that post rape and murder threats against individual women or violent and misogynistic pornographic images are allowed to continue uninterrupted.

In fact men (and their female allies) often report feminists and feminist groups to the social media companies en masse, leading to those feminists and groups getting banned, restricted or closed down. A recent example of this is Facebook closing the feminist discussion group, “Refuse to date men who use porn,” which had approximately 27,000 members.

Men’s mass reporting of feminist women on social media with the aim of getting them banned is organised harassment of women and should be understood as hate crime. It silences women and, like harassment in physical spaces, stops women engaging fully in political and cultural life, and makes it hard, if not impossible, for women to organise politically. This means that women’s voices, needs and analysis are erased from the public sphere while men’s voices, needs and analysis continue to dominate and be prioritised.

Because men (particularly white men) have disproportionate social, cultural and economic power, their word is usually given more weight than women’s, and many authorities accept their complaints without question – leading to a worsening of the very situation that the recognition of hate crime was designed to ameliorate.

The understanding of hate crime urgently needs to be clarified as the behaviour of members of a dominant group towards members of a less powerful group – usually with the motivation of maintaining their dominance, both individually and collectively.

For this reason we disagree with any extension of the definition of hate crime to include personal characteristics that are ephemeral or have not been disadvantaged historically through material and structural imbalance of power, or personal characteristics that are subjective rather than objective. There is a very real risk that extending the definition of hate crime in such a way could be used to close down dissent in a similar way to how MRAs are using accusations of hate crime to silence feminists. Dissent and a multiplicity of voices and views are essential for the functioning of a healthy democracy.

We are concerned that the Equality Act protected characteristic of ‘gender reassignment,’ which is based on the practical and material steps a person takes to reassign their gender, has been redefined for the purposes of hate crime as ‘transgender identity,’ which is based on a personal and internal sense or feeling. While most women are happy to accept transgender people’s right to live in dignity, on their own terms, and free from discrimination, it is sometimes impossible for women to accept as women, men who have such a belief and retain fully functional male genitalia, and male patterns of behaviour based on their socialisation as boys into the dominant sex class.

For example, it was recently reported that a transgender prisoner was accused of sexually assaulting four female inmates and exposing his erect penis within days of arriving at a women’s prison. To frame women’s legitimate concerns about the impact of such situations on women and girls, particularly when they are at their most vulnerable, as transphobia is as inappropriate as framing a sincere critique of transubstantiation or male cultural dominance as religious or sexist hate crime.

The way that women are being silenced and harassed when trying to discuss and speak out about the implications on their sex-based rights of the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 is very similar to how women who speak out about male violence are silenced and harassed – and should be seen as misogynistic hate crime.

The hate crime framework must not be used to silence respectful debate and dissent.

As a group that includes a number of survivors of prostitution, we are acutely aware of the frequency and extent of violence that is directed at women involved in prostitution – mostly by pimps and punters. However, we do not believe the solution is to define a new category of hate crime against “sex workers.” This would suggest that violence is a problem of a few bad apples (or ‘ugly mugs’) and not that prostitution is inherently exploitative and violent. The focus should be on reducing the prevalence of prostitution and providing those trapped in it with viable alternatives. Crimes against prostituted individuals should be prosecuted as racist, misogynistic, homophobic or transphobic hate crimes, as appropriate.

Intersectional analysis

The understanding of hate crime needs to be intersectional – meaning that different axes of historical oppression can compound and multiply the impact on individuals who are members of more than one historically oppressed group. For example, research by Tell Mama shows that most victims of Islamophobic hate crime are female while most perpetrators are male, as shown in the following chart.

However, because misogynistic hate crime is not recorded centrally, the intersectional dynamics are obscured. This means it’s not possible to have a true understanding of the situation, without which it’s impossible to find effective solutions.

Misogynistic hate crime

Data suggests that crimes against women and girls are at an all-time high. Last year 1.2 million women were victims of domestic abuse in England and Wales. Approximately two women are killed by their male partner or ex-partner every single week. The figures for rape, and sexual harassment in schools and elsewhere are equally shocking. Almost all of the perpetrators are male and most of the victims are female.

If this amount of violent crime was committed against any other group of people who share a protected characteristic, it would be considered a national emergency.

Most of these crimes could be classified as misogynistic hate crimes if we understand misogynistic hate crime to be male behaviour towards women and girls that treats them with contempt and hatred, and serves to enforce their subordination and compliance, and to uphold individual and collective male dominance.

This would make clear the size of the problem and would force a deeper consideration of the causes of such cataclysmic levels of VAWG and how to deal with it. As the statistics from Tell Mama show, misogyny is also a feature of other hate crimes.

Hate crime is first and foremost an expression of deep structural and material inequality. It is this that gives the dominant group the sense of entitlement to act out their hostility against the subordinate group, often in order to maintain their dominant position, individually and as a group. Being part of the dominant group ensures the perpetrator has a high degree of impunity. If women and girls committed violent crime against men and boys on a similar scale, it is unlikely they would have such impunity.

Tackling hate crime therefore must involve tackling underlying structural and material inequality and clamping down on anything that promotes, legitimises or justifies crimes against the targeted groups. And it requires institutions – big and small – to face the institutional racism and sexism and other forms of structural discrimination and inequality and to take real steps to deal with them. Anything less is doomed to failure.

The sex industry as misogynistic and racist hate propaganda

The sex industry in all its various forms promotes, legitimises and justifies violence and hatred against women and girls. Nearly 90% of scenes in the most-viewed downloadable porn feature violence against women. Porn is therefore arguably hate crime against the women who are directly involved. But it does not end there, because porn conditions viewers to see violence against women and girls as sexually arousing, and to consider it normal and that women and girls somehow deserve it or even “ask for it.”

Porn therefore encourages and incites viewers to see women and girls as second class, as not fully human and to treat them with contempt and hatred. Porn should therefore be considered a form of hate propaganda in that it legitimises and promotes VAWG.

Pornography also legitimises and promotes racism:

“Indeed, all pornography uses sex as a vehicle to transmit messages about the legitimacy of racism and sexism. Hiding behind the façade of fantasy and harmless fun, pornography delivers reactionary racist stereotypes that would be considered unacceptable were they in any other types of mass-produced media. However, the power of pornography is that these messages have a long history and…continue to inform policies that economically, politically and socially discriminate against people of color.” – Gail Dines

On average, boys start watching online porn by age 11, a year before they typically start puberty. So children are being exposed to porn, the majority of which is composed of graphic depictions of sexualised, and often racist, violence against women. This is a form of child abuse. It teaches that violence is acceptable and a normal part of sex and leads to a reduction in the ability to empathise and form mutually satisfying relationships. It is having a profoundly disturbing effect on our young people.

The saturation of the online world with porn and the pornification of the wider culture is unprecedented in the history of humankind and it is no accident that it has coincided with an unprecedented rise in VAWG, and racist and other forms of hate crime. If we are serious about tackling hate crime, we must urgently address porn and see it as one of the most serious contributing factors.

Lap dancing and strip clubs, euphemistically called sexual entertainment venues (SEVs), also glamorise and glorify the objectification of women and have been shown to lead to an increase in VAWG. Similarly, research has shown that buying sex also makes men more likely to commit rape, aggressive sexual acts, and other misogynistic hate crimes.

Any increase in SEVs or the number of men buying women for sex will therefore inevitably lead to an increase in misogynistic hate crimes. Anything that normalises prostitution leads to more men buying sex more often, and so ultimately to more hate crime. This alone is justification for the introduction of the Nordic Model, which is the only approach to prostitution that has been shown to lead to a reduction in the size of the prostitution markets. To be effective, the Nordic Model needs to be implemented wholeheartedly, funded generously, and introduced alongside a crackdown on pimping and brothel keeping, and measures to address women’s poverty and homelessness.

Recommendations

  1. Frame hate crime as an expression of dominance and structural power imbalance.
  2. Bring the definitions of the relevant protected characteristics into line with the Equality Act 2010.
  3. Add misogynistic hate crime (based on the protected characteristic of sex) to the five types of hate crime that are monitored centrally and for which increased sentences can be given.
  4. Extend the understanding of hate crime to include an intersectional analysis that recognises different axes of historical oppression can compound and multiply the impact.
  5. Ensure the hate crime framework is not used to silence respectful debate and dissent.
  6. Urgent and robust implementation of age verification on online porn.
  7. Introduce the Nordic Model approach to prostitution.
  8. Use the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) to encourage measures to redress historical inequality between the sexes, races and ethnic groups, and people with the other protected characteristics, and to ensure that no laws or policies are introduced that will worsen such inequality.
  9. Strengthen the PSED to include a stronger obligation and for outcomes to be measured against concrete targets and standards, and create a statutory mechanism for inspecting compliance.

Download

Download a PDF version of this paper.

[* ] The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was inadvertently omitted from the submission.

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