After Sarah Everard's murder, making misogyny a hate crime would help tackle the deep roots of male violence – Susan Dalgety

It's time to name the sickness that seeps into every aspect of our society, from council chambers to police locker rooms, board rooms to family homes.

Sarah Everard's murder must lead to changes in society and the law, says Susan Dalgety
Sarah Everard's murder must lead to changes in society and the law, says Susan Dalgety

Let’s name it loudly, and often. Shout it from the rooftops. Amplify on social media. It’s misogyny. The hatred of women.

It’s as ancient as humanity itself. It’s found in every culture, pervasive throughout the world, from the streets of Kabul to Edinburgh’s New Town.

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It is expressed in everyday sexism, where women are dismissed in the workplace for being “a girl” or “a granny”, too “emotional” or “too busy with family responsibilities” for promotion.

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It is what drives the violent pornography that infects the smartphone of almost every young man. Images of women being choked – sometimes to the point of death – while being penetrated are what our children have been brainwashed into believing are expressions of love.

Misogyny, not sexual desire, is the root cause of rape and sexual assault. There were 2,343 rapes and attempted rapes reported to Police Scotland during 2019-20, but the Scottish Crime Survey suggests that this figure is less than a quarter of the actual number of incidents. That means over 10,000 women are attacked in Scotland every year, and most of them tell no-one.

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And it is unbridled hatred of women that motivates men to kill. According to Counting Dead Women, the group that records femicide across the UK, 80 women have been killed, where the man is the principal suspect, since Sarah Everard was brutally murdered by a Metropolitan Police officer on March 3. Eight of them in Scotland.

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Misogyny. It is relentless. It stunts careers. It destroys lives. And it is commonplace. Before my male readers stop reading, outraged by my anger, let me reassure them that I know that not all men hate women. Not all men are sexist pigs. Not all men are rapists. Very few men kill.

But despite the advances of the last century, our society is still structurally patriarchal. Women and girls are still expected to be kind, while men and boys are encouraged to be tough. And as Sandy Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, wrote in this newspaper, women and girls are taught that it is “our responsibility to keep ourselves safe from an ever-present threat”. Victim, protect thyself.

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Nowhere is the misogynist culture more evident than in the Metropolitan Police, where 750 employees have faced sexual misconduct allegations in the last decade, resulting in only 83 sackings – a shameful clear-up rate.

But the head of the Met is a woman, I hear you cry. And you’re right. Cressida Dick has been in charge of the force since 2017, and it appears her leadership has not made a dent in the brutish culture which allowed Sarah Everard’s murderer to hide in plain sight among its ranks. And therein lies the root of the problem.

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Misogyny is so deep-rooted, its tentacles reaching into every aspect of our lives, that too often women in senior roles feel they have to adopt the prevailing culture of their organisation to survive. And the harsh truth is that a handful of women in leadership positions will have little lasting effect unless there are significant structural changes across society.

So what is to be done? First, men have to accept responsibility for male behaviour. Admitting that misogyny exists, by naming it, is the first step towards ending it.

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I want Boris Johnson, Keir Starmer and Ed Davey to call out the culture that has helped them rise to the top of their parties. I want fathers to teach their sons to respect women and girls. And I want women to be able to speak their truth without being accused of hoarding their rights, as the hapless David Lammy implied earlier this week.

There must be a crackdown on pornography, making it far more difficult for young people to access it. I am no prude, but the growth in violent pornography, freely available on the internet, has encouraged this generation of young men to believe that women are nothing more than sex objects.

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Our judicial system must get better at convicting sex crimes. Rape has the lowest conviction rate of any crime type, according to the charity Zero Tolerance. Pauline McNeill, Labour’s justice spokesperson, met with Scotland’s new Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain QC, earlier this week to discuss male violence against women, and says she is encouraged by her expertise and commitment to tackling it. But ten years after the National Sexual Crime Unit was established, why are conviction rates still so low?

And we should start by making misogyny a hate crime. The recent Hate Crime and Public Order Bill excluded sex as a protected characteristic. Instead, the Scottish government set up a working group to examine the issue.

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Why the Scottish government did not consider hatred against women the same as homophobia or racism was a matter of intense public debate at the time, with many women criticising the omission as a major misjudgement. As the then Labour MSP, Johann Lamont, argued in parliament during the bill's passage, women “understand hate crime more than any other group does”.

Making misogyny a hate crime will not stop male violence against women. But it would send out a strong signal that hatred of women is not acceptable. That casual sexism is not amusing or light-hearted, but a symptom of a much deeper malaise – a violent culture where women live in fear, forever conscious that we are hated for our very being, our sex.

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