According to feminist site, Ravishly, police in Nottingham, England are pushing to make street harassment into a hate crime. Sounds good, right? Sexual harassment should be condemned, both socially and legally. But what is sexual harassment? I ask this question because if it’s to be deemed a “hate crime”, then we’ve got to know what’s being outlawed. According to Australian Human Rights Commission, sexual harassment is defined as:
…any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.
(Sounds similar to 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. I’ll leave that for another blog post on another day).
According to BBC News, the Nottingham Police defines “misogynistic hate crime” as:
incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman and includes behaviour targeted towards a woman by a man simply because they are a woman.
The Nottingham Police are even encouraging women to report what they deem to be misogynistic, even if they aren’t technically illegal so they can get support.
I applaud the Nottingham Police for making such a strong stand, I really do. Discrimination and harassment should be condemned, as I’ve said. My problem with all this, like 18C under the Racial Discrimination Act here, is that it can be open up to interpretation. I think it’s fair to say that any unwanted touching should be avoided at all times. Intimate touching should definitely avoided, unless it’s in the right place and it’s consented to. Beyond those obvious examples, I feel that other areas may not be so clear cut. What one woman finds, “offensive” and “misogynistic” may not be deemed “offensive” or “misogynistic” to another. Is banter deemed sexual harassment? A man calling a woman a (at least what he sees) as an affectionate term deemed sexual harassment or misogyny?
Basically, I wonder whether such a law can be used against someone who didn’t mean any harm and cause collateral damage like the Queensland University of Technology case did to the students and their futures. (I think that whole case was just a mess. Another post for another time on one of my other blogs – maybe). Will such a law, with good intentions, be used to destroy the reputations and futures of people who really don’t deserve it? Will factors like race, age or socioeconomic status be considered if the laws are modified to make all sexual harassment deemed a hate crime? Will men who can afford top lawyers, etc be able to get away with it anyway?
While I’ve been a big fan of anti – discrimination laws since I was in Year Nine, I can see how they can be used and abused, and it’s not always easy for victims to get justice. Also, I think, in fact, sometimes the laws themselves can be used unjustly and cause irreparable damage, both to the alleged “victim” and “perpetrator”. At the very least, terms like “misogyny”, and “offend” should be clearly defined as to protect unsuspecting people of unwarranted accusations of sexism, misogyny or people who are accused of other forms of discrimination.