Misogynistic harassment could become a criminal offence as part of proposals aimed at providing greater protection for women and girls.
A consultation has been launched on the draft reforms, which would create five new laws to provide police and prosecutors with new powers to tackle the corrosive effects of misogyny.
The proposals are based on the recommendations made by the Working Group on Misogyny led by Baroness Kennedy. This concluded that the harmful effects of misogyny meant women and girls required new protection through the criminal law.
Under the proposals, the scope of how current laws tackle misogynistic abuse would be expanded to include threatening, abusive or sexual behaviour directed towards women or girls – because of their gender– which is likely to cause them to feel degradation, humiliation or distress.
It would also be used to tackle situations where women or girls are subjected to threatening or abusive messages about rape, sexual assault or disfigurement – either in person, or online.
Justice Secretary Keith Brown said: “Baroness Kennedy’s report was stark in its assessment of the level of misogyny that exists in Scotland. Women and girls are routinely humiliated, touched, groped, undermined, trolled and objectified both online and off, and subjected to threats, harassment and abuse about their looks or desirability – stopping them from fully participating in society.
“Although there are already a range of laws that can be used to prosecute aspects of misogynistic harassment and abuse, these do not accurately identify the particular harm caused by misogyny. They also fail to adequately respond to problems faced by women, which is why we are consulting on further criminal reforms.
“And while criminal law reform alone cannot be expected to eliminate misogynistic abuse, or the attitudes which perpetuate it, these specific criminal protections are an important step in challenging society’s – and particularly men’s – tolerance of misogyny.
“I encourage everyone with an interest to consider what is proposed and offer their views.”
Baroness Helena Kennedy KC said: “ I strongly encourage as many women as possible to participate in this consultation.
“For too long the law has not been drawn from the experience of women. It is time to hear from girls and women about what they think should be included in law so that they can be treated as equals and live free from abuse and denigration.”
The consultation will run from 8 March to 2 June 2023. Take part in the consultation.
The five new proposed criminal laws are:
- An offence of misogynistic harassment. This would make it a criminal offence for a person to behave in a way that amounts to misogynistic harassment directed at a woman or girl or group of women and girls.
- An offence of misogynistic behaviour. Intended to deal with misogynistic behaviour which is likely to have the effecting of causing a woman or girl to experience fear, alarm, degradation, humiliation or distress where that behaviour is not directed at a specific woman or girl (or group of women and girls) and so could not be described as ‘harassment’.
- A statutory aggravation concerning misogyny. This would be used where an offence had a misogynistic motive or a person demonstrates misogyny whilst committing a crime. The statutory aggravation would ensure that this motive is recorded and taken into account when sentencing.
- An offence of threatening or abusive communications to women or girls that reference rape, sexual assault or disfigurement. This offence criminalises sending an abusive message to a woman or girl that refers to rape, sexual assault or disfigurement
- An offence of stirring up hatred against women and girls. This offence is concerned with the effect that the behaviour may be likely to have on the people in whom the perpetrator is seeking to stir up hatred of women and girls.