Peers are expected to vote this week to make misogyny a hate crime, as the House of Lords considers a string of amendments to improve protection for women in Priti Patel’s controversial policing bill.
With Labour backing, Tory peer and former victims commissioner Baroness Newlove is set to defy opposition from Boris Johnson in her bid to make sex or gender a protected characteristic alongside race, religion, trans identity, sexual orientation and disability when judging whether a crime was motivated by hate.
Meanwhile, Labour will push for votes to outlaw “sex for rent” and toughen up action on stalking and the “spiking” of women with incapacitating drugs by injection or the adulteration of drinks.
At present, landlords accused of demanding sex from tenants can be tried under Sexual Offences Act charges of causing, inciting or controlling prostitution for gain.
But Labour’s justice spokesperson in the Lords, Fred Ponsonby, told The Independent this effectively brands the victim a prostitute, discouraging women from reporting the crime to police.
He is seeking to create a specific new crime of requiring or accepting sexual relations as a condition of accommodation, removing stigma from victims.
Lady Newlove has said she was “disappointed and dismayed” by Mr Johnson’s rejection last year of calls for misogyny to be made a hate crime and says she is confident the move will gain cross-party backing from peers.
Her campaign, backed by women’s rights groups including the Fawcett Society, was dealt a blow in December when a Law Commission review concluded that the move would not solve the “real problem” of hostility or prejudice directed against women because of their sex or gender.
Fawcett Society chief executive Jemima Olchawski said it was vital for the Lords to now ensure that anti-women attacks are recognised as hate crimes.
“If you’re a victim of a crime motivated by hatred of your race, religion or disability, the law will recognise it – but not if you’re victimised because you’re a woman,” Ms Olchawski told The Independent.
“This amendment is an opportunity to change that.
“From Muslim women having their headscarves snatched to women facing horrendous abuse online, making misogyny a hate crime is vital if we are to get serious about tackling the extent and prevalence of violence against women.“
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is currently undergoing intensive scrutiny in the Lords after completing its passage through the Commons last July.
The government last week accepted amendments to outlaw the photographing of breastfeeding mothers. Further measures relating to protections for women will be debated on Monday and Wednesday before the Lords next week considers the bill’s controversial proposals to clamp down on protests.
Amendments tabled by Labour and likely to be forced to a vote also include a requirement for an urgent review of the laws and police action around “spiking”. The party is also backing proposals to require awareness training on the issue of stalking for criminal justice professionals.
Lord Ponsonby told The Independent: “Concerns about violence against women and girls and preventing particularly heinous crimes run through many of the amendments we’re pursuing or backing this week – relating, as they do, to sex for rent, spiking and misogyny.
“Labour wants to help the police not only convict offenders but to tailor their databases to ensure better targeting of limited resources.”
Lord Ponsonby added: “Landlords who seek sex for rent are explicit in their demands, and the current laws need urgently updating to tackle those who prey on the young and vulnerable.
“At present, a victim may have to be identified as a prostitute to get a successful conviction – something that clearly discourages people from going to the police. Our amendment, if accepted by ministers, would help clamp down on these predators.”
The Home Office said ministers are still considering the Law Commission’s recommendation that they should create a new offence of public sexual harassment, rather than adding sex and gender to hate crime laws.
And it said that Ms Patel had already asked the National Police Chiefs’ Council to conduct an urgent review of the extent and scale of spiking.
On stalking, it said that good training was already provided to staff by criminal justice agencies and it was not considered appropriate for ministers to mandate the training programmes of independent organisations.
A Home Office spokesperson added: “The safety of women and girls is paramount and we will always place victims’ voices at the heart of our decisions.
“Our PCSC Bill will deliver systemic transformation and change in the way that violence and crimes against women and girls are handled. It will crack down on perpetrators, stop them evading justice, and protect victims.
“In addition to the PCSC Bill, we are working in tandem to implement our Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, published this summer, which focuses on increased support for survivors. Any amendments to the Bill will be debated in the usual way.”