Misogyny – A Human Rights Issue

The Working Group on Misogyny and Criminal Justice's independent report on their findings and recommendations.

Section 5: Attitudes to misogynistic behaviour

5.1 Overview of public attitudes

As Lord Bracadale commented in his Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation

"[there is] a significant cultural shift in the sense that women are not now prepared to tolerate sexual harassment that might have been put up with in the past."[62]

This assertion is certainly borne out by the evidence considered by the Working Group:

  • The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2019[63] asked participants how wrong they considered three forms of sexual harassment to be: wolf-whistling by a group of strangers, sexual harassment in the workplace, and stalking by an ex-boyfriend. Sexual harassment in the workplace was the most likely to be considered 'very seriously wrong' (45%), while the equivalent figures for a group of men wolf-whistling and a man sending unwanted gifts to his ex-girlfriend were 39% and 30% respectively. The proportion considering the behaviour of the group of men wolf-whistling to be 'very seriously wrong' increased by 14 percentage points from 25% in 2014 to 39% in 2019, and the proportion thinking the behaviour of the ex-boyfriend sending unwanted gifts was 'very seriously wrong' increased by 11 percentage points from 19% to 30% over the same period.
  • An overwhelming majority (94%) of people considered the behaviour of a man who put naked pictures of his ex-girlfriend on the internet to be 'very seriously wrong' in 2019. This compared with 88% in 2014. There was also an increase of five percentage points between 2014 and 2019 in the proportion who thought the man's actions in this scenario did 'a great deal' of harm to the woman (from 87% to 92%).
  • A man telling a sexist joke was considered to be less serious than the examples of sexual harassment which were asked about in 2019. Only a quarter (25%) of people considered this to be 'very seriously wrong', though almost two-fifths (38%) said they would tell their friend it was wrong to make the sexist joke.

It is notable from this data on social attitudes that trends seem to be moving towards a lessening of acceptance of behaviour that would fit within the Working Group's definition of misogyny. Whilst it would be wrong to try and accurately project forwards from this data, it is hoped that this trajectory will continue, given the increasing profile of the activism and voice of women and the willingness of key actors (such as Police Scotland and its That Guy campaign) to get involved in campaigning for greater freedom and safety for women. It is also notable that men's attitudes are changing, as well as women's. Lord Bracadale's comment on the significant cultural shift that is taking place in terms of tolerance of sexual harassment could, with validity, reference men as well as women.

This said, there is clearly no room for complacency, or to think that reported shifting social attitudes are guarantees of progress. Ample evidence[64] shows that women's rights are currently experiencing significant backlash and must be considered as being constantly under threat.

In October 2021, a YouGov poll[65] revealed public sentiment on the types of street harassment that should be criminalised (see Figure One).

The YouGov data also revealed:

"Women are almost universally more likely to be in favour of criminalising forms of sexual harassment. At the top end of the scale, this includes 76% of women who think making sexually graphic or lewd comments should be criminalised versus 62% of men. Another 72% want taking photos of people without consent to be an offence, compared to just over half of men (55%) – a 17pt gap. Some 66% of women think intentionally invading personal space is worthy of being criminalised as well, compared to 53% of men.

This sentiment is most pronounced among young women, who in nearly all cases tend to be more in favour of criminalising acts of harassment than both older women and men of all ages. Differences between the genders tend to diminish with age, however, with older men and women being of similar minds when it comes to most of these forms of harassment."

The YouGov survey reinforces the trajectory of social attitudes described above and creates a warning to all four nations' governments not to fall too far behind in terms of their attitudes, policies and investment.

5.2 How to tackle misogynistic behaviour: Attitudes revealed by the Lived Experiences Survey

A summary of opinion from the Lived Experiences Survey as to how misogynistic behaviour should be tackled in Scotland is below; further detail can be found in the Lived Experiences Survey Analysis (published separately):

  • The option of a misogyny offence was viewed by the most respondents to be 'very effective' at addressing misogynistic conduct (42.3%) when compared to other options including police fines and public awareness raising. However, when the 'very effective' and 'effective' categories are combined education interventions were viewed most favourably, with over 3 in 4 (76.8%) respondents viewing education interventions as effective or very effective.
  • From qualitative responses, education interventions were most commonly cited as the most effective strategy to address misogynistic conduct by respondents. Education interventions were followed by 'multiple interventions' and public awareness raising.
  • Educating on what is not acceptable behaviour, and on what misogyny is, were the most commonly cited education strategies. The need to communicate what misogyny is was also the strongest theme for public awareness raising.
  • Younger people aged 18 - 34 were more likely than respondents aged 35 - 59 and 60+ to view education interventions as very effective or effective at tackling misogyny (83.2% for respondents aged 18 - 34, compared to 76.7% of respondents aged 35 - 59 and 71.4% of respondents aged 60+). Older respondents (those aged 60+) were more likely than younger respondents (aged 18 - 34) to view all interventions as ineffective or very ineffective.
  • Minority ethnic respondents were more likely than white respondents to view education interventions as very ineffective or ineffective at tackling misogyny than white respondents (16.9% of minority ethnic respondents compared to 9.2% of white respondents).
  • Minority ethnic respondents were also more likely than white respondents to view police powers for on-the-spot fines as effective or very effective (62.1% of minority ethnic respondents compared to 53.9% of white respondents), and also more likely to view the creation of a new criminal offence for all types of misogynistic behaviour as effective or very effective (72.2% of minority ethnic respondents compared to 62.9% of white respondents).
  • Education interventions were the intervention most likely to be viewed as very effective or effective amongst gay/lesbian and heterosexual/straight respondents (81.3% of gay/lesbian respondents compared to 79.5% of bisexual respondents and 76.4% of heterosexual/straight respondents).

5.3 Men's views of misogyny

Professor John Devaney, Centenary Chair of Social Work, University of Edinburgh and Working Group member provided the following comment:

"Recent murders of women in the UK have focused attention on the need for men to take greater personal responsibility for their own behaviour and in challenging the behaviour and attitudes of other men that create and sustain misogyny, and wider gender inequality. In a recent survey,[66] 70% of men believe there should be more women in positions of political power, and 60% of men support having more women leaders in their workplace. Two-thirds of men agreed that women continue to face "major barriers" in their chosen professions. At home, 88% of the same men affirmed they were doing everything they could to support their partner's career. However, when it came to individual action and how far men are willing to go to advance gender equality, women reported that men overstated their efforts to be allies and lacked an understanding of the issues women face. While 77% of men reported doing "everything they can" to support gender equality at work, only 41% of women agreed that this was occurring.

While there have been longstanding and well–respected campaigns and initiatives to address misogyny, and in particular violence by men against women and children, such as White Ribbon, there remains a concern that this, to date, has had limited impact on wider societal attitudes and actual rates of gender based violence. In the online space there has been a growth of two diametrically opposed sets of groups. On one side misogynistic men's groups have been rapidly growing and have contributed to a number of fatal attacks along with the propagation of gendered online harassment and hate. On the other side are groups designed to provide a space for men to explore their own masculinity and to exchange ideas about how to ally with women in tackling patriarchy, sexism and misogyny. Men's connections to patriarchy can mean that they are well placed to help undermine it from within. A common feature of both types of group appears to be that members are younger and often from similar socio-demographic groups.

As has been noted in recent academic work[67], some groups of men have much more power, influence and privilege than others. Men in leadership positions, and in influential institutions such as politics, business, media and the criminal justice system have a particular responsibility to speak out and work to build gender equality and inclusiveness in their own organisations and wider communities. This is less than straightforward though. As Burrell's (2020) work[68] highlights, the efforts to reduce and prevent violence against women and girls can both challenge existing patriarchal structures and masculine norms while also reproducing male dominance within the same movement. Burrell argues for the need for men to avoid disassociation – whereby male allies construct themselves as being separate from patriarchal inequalities, and therefore avoid acknowledging or confronting the ways in which they are implicated in their maintenance."

5.4 Misogyny and Police Scotland

Police Scotland's strategic aims are described below:

"Our Purpose: To improve the safety and wellbeing of people, places and communities in Scotland

Our Focus: Keeping People Safe

Our Values: Integrity, Fairness and Respect"

Various points of concern in respect of the execution of this purpose and focus were raised to, or by, the Working Group:

  • Channel Four's dispatches programme (11 October 2021) revealed that in the past four years Police Scotland had 166 police officers and special constables accused of 245 counts of sexual misconduct and that no officers were dismissed as a result.
  • A Police Scotland officer who "hounded vulnerable women with sex texts and naked selfies after investigating cases" was jailed in December 2021. The Police Constable was sentenced to 14 months in prison for harassing three women.[69]
  • On 6 October 2021, the BBC reported:

"The culture in an armed policing unit within Police Scotland was 'horrific' and an 'absolute boys' club,' an employment tribunal has found.

It accepted evidence of a 'sexist culture' in the armed response vehicles unit (ARV) in the east of Scotland.

Former firearms officer Rhona Malone raised the tribunal against the force alleging sex discrimination and victimisation.

Her victimisation claims succeeded but the discrimination claim was dismissed.

It also found that Ms Malone was an 'entirely credible and reliable witness', but the evidence of her former superior, Insp Keith Warhurst, was 'contradictory, confusing and ultimately incredible'.

Insp Warhurst sent an email in January 2018 saying two female firearms officers should not be deployed together when there were sufficient male staff on duty.

Police Scotland apologised unreservedly to Ms Malone and said it would address the issues raised in the judgement 'as a matter of urgency'."

  • In its submission to the Working Group, it was surprising that in response to the question 'Do you know of any Scottish laws that currently address misogynistic behaviours?' Police Scotland mentioned a number of offences, such as Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005, the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 but did not explicitly mention s38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing Act 2010 or Breach of the Peace. (The submission did refer to s39 Criminal Justice and Licensing Act in the context of stalking). This may have been an oversight, but equally could reveal a blindspot in terms of the availability of these laws in the context of misogynistic behaviours, reinforcing the need for law that specifically names misogyny and educates accordingly.
  • Public trust in, and perceptions of, policing are likely to be negatively impacted by recent high profile news stories emerging outside Scotland. The Independent Office for Police Conduct announced on 1 February 2022 wide ranging recommendations

"made to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) to change policing practice after nine linked investigations found evidence of bullying and discrimination within the ranks.
Other inappropriate behaviour by officers, including, racism, misogyny, harassment and the exchange of offensive social media messages, is also highlighted in a learning report we are now publishing from our Operation Hotton investigations."[70]

Examples of some of the messages shared between Met officers through on-line platforms included:

"I would happily rape you … if I was single … if I was single I would happily chloroform you."

"Getting a woman into bed is like spreading butter. It can be done with a bit of effort using a credit card, but it's quicker and easier just to use a knife."[71]

  • The Working Group recognised the inherent tension in recommending more law, and therefore more policing and greater role for criminal justice, whilst at the same time acknowledging significant flaws in these institutions. The Group was ever mindful that Sarah Everard was murdered by a serving police officer. Increasing the number of tools available for the criminal justice system will not, alone, be a solution to misogyny.


Email: bill.brash@gov.scot

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